It is time to give a shout out to one of Houston’s hometown hero’s, the Houston Rockets. Until the Houston Dynamos came along, they were the only professional sports franchise to bring a championship to Houston. They brought two actually, winning the National Basketball League (NBA) crown in 1994 and 1995. Since that time it is has been a dry hole, with the Rockets only once advancing to the Western Conference finals.

However, this year the Rockets have the best record in the NBA since December 1, with a sterling 17-2. This includes road wins over the Spurs, Thunder and Warriors. Not too bad a trifecta. They are led again by a much rejuvenated James Hardin (Fear the Beard) as point guard who is in the conversation for league Most Valuable Player (MVP). This all began with the hiring of offensive guru Mike D’Antoni as coach. While I, like many others, was skeptical, it has turned out so far as an inspired choice by General Manager (GM) Daryl Morey. Morey was one of the first NBA GM’s who focused on saber metrics and is fearless in trying out new concepts, new ideas, new players or coaches who may not seem to fit the traditional NBA profile. Morey keeps the big picture goal of bringing a title back to ‘Clutch City’ yet again.

I thought about Morey, the Rockets and a best practices compliance program when I read a recent article in the New York Times (NYT) Corner Office column by Adam Bryant, where he profiled Mike Tuchen, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the software vendor Talend, in a piece entitled “Watch the Road, Not the Wipers. I found the article had some very interesting implications for any Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner.

An early lesson for Tuchen was to focus on what he could control, not what he could not. He learned this lesson in college crew, he was undersized both in weight and height from his teammates. He said, “I had to figure out how I could make myself as efficient as possible, pound-for-pound. I had to make sure that every ounce I had was going to be as effective as I could be. So I asked, what could I do to make my diet as effective as possible? What could I do from a training perspective to work harder than the other guys?… That approach, focused on results with incredibly detailed measurement and course correction when needed, is so transferable to a work environment.”

As a CCO you are required to use the tools at hand. If you do not have enough head count or budget (and who does) use what you can more effectively. You may even be able to outsource more mundane compliance tasks to vendors which supply such services at a cost much reduced from your employee cost. As usual, you are only limited by your imagination.

Another key lesson Tuchen learned from crew was to stay focused and stay calm. He said that “When you’re on the water, you’ve got waves, wind and whatever else is going on. You can choose to either focus on that and use it as an excuse later on or ignore it.” His rowing coach phrased it another way, “When you’re driving and rain is pouring down, with the windshield wipers going, you can either watch the windshield wiper or you watch the road. Which is going to be more successful? That was just a fabulous reminder about staying focused and calm.”

Tuchen had an approach to leadership which resonated with me and I think every CCO should consider. He believes there are three basic components to leadership. First “is getting the right team together and having it really be a team, who have shared cultural values and who work together and support each other. It’s not just about having the right people.” For any CCO, this is critical with the disparate elements you need to have in every effective compliance program. These elements can be from Human Resources (HR) to IT to Internal Audit, to Accounting and Finance, to Internal Controls, to Legal and beyond.

The second is to “have a strategy of how you’re going to win. This is the chess match part of being a” business leader. Every CCO should have a one, three and five-year strategic plan going forward, all based upon ongoing risk assessments. As your company matures, grows and expands, your compliance program should do so as well. It also leads to the documentation being ready if or when the regulators coming knocking and a road map in annual budgetary requests.

Finally, is execution. As Baker Hughes Inc. (BHI) CCO Jay Martin says, execution is not only where the rubber meets the road in compliance but it is what distinguishes an effective compliance program from a paper program. Tuchen said it’s “about having a clear set of goals, with everyone aligned around them. And we have a scorecard that we share with the board and the whole company each quarter, and it shows red, green and yellow for our progress on each of the goals.” Execution can tie into your strategic plan but you must execute on that plan for your compliance program to be effective.

As a CCO you will probably be asked to assist in hiring employees for your compliance department or interviewing potential senior management candidates from the compliance perspective. In this regard I thought Tuchen’s thoughts on hiring were pertinent. When he interviews he noted, “The first questions are always going to be about management and leadership style. And I’ll ask a number of open-ended questions about what’s important to get right as a leader. Some people will talk about the people on the team and the best way to motivate them. The answers that kind of scare me are from candidates who talk about people as if they’re something on a spreadsheet. Leadership and management are all about people.” Clearly for Tuchen, leadership is about people and this should be so for any CCO who is interviewing as well.

Next Tuchen said he wants “to make sure that you’re resilient, because things don’t always go the way you want them to. So I’ll ask questions like, what’s the hardest problem you’ve ever solved? Why was it hard? What did you do uniquely well that someone else wouldn’t have been able to do, and why?” This is clearly appropriate for any CCO to inquire into for a new hire.

I found Tuchen’s thoughts on leadership very useful for any CCO to consider and remember to always keep your eyes on the road not the wipers.


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© Thomas R. Fox, 2017