Execution was the key. I have now lived long enough to see the Houston Astros win a World Series game. I had previously seen the Astros play in World Series games in 2005 but alas they were swept out by the Chicago White Sox, so no wins. Last night was the 12th anniversary of the longest game in World Series history, a 14-inning affair in which the Astros lost 2-1 at home in MinuteMaid Park. But not last night as the hometown heros battled back. Although as I responded to a friend who texted me in the 11th inning to ask how my heart was doing, I told him “barely functioning” given the plethora of back and forth home runs in extra innings. Sleep was not forthcoming.

When the playoffs began, my wife asked me who I might like the Astros to face if they made it to the World Series. I immediately responded the LA Dodgers, for two reasons. First, this seems like the old days and we are just in a good-old fashioned National League (NL) Western Division tussle, like we were from 1969 to 1992 when the Astros and Dodgers played in the NL West. Second, before there was a Big Red Machine stomping with regularity on the Astros collective psyche, there were the LA Dodgers of the 1960s. Sandy Koufax would come in and mow the Astros down and the next night Don Drysdale would come in and throw at their collective heads, just because he was so mean. I still want some payback as, in baseball, the memories of your youth last a lifetime.

There is one other thing from those 1960s Dodgers that is relevant right up until this day; Vin Scully, certainly the greatest living announcer of baseball, now retired since 2016. I missed Red Barber and Mel Allen in their hey days, Pee Wee Reese and Dizzy Dean were very good on television for NBC’s Game of the Week, Harry Carrey became a living caricature of himself, Ernie Harwell was magical but for my money Vin Scully was the greatest. He could not only paint colors on the radio but he could announce the game as if it was a symphonic tidal wave. It was fabulous to see him in the pre-game festivities. A very long and most heartfelt nod of the radio listening baseball fan base to Vincent Edward Scully and his 67 year long run with the Dodgers organization.

Yet the hero of last night’s win was not one of the Astros stars who blasted 3 collective home runs over two extra innings of baseball. It was Marwin Gonzales, a journeyman player who is versatile enough to have played 6 positions during the season and actually led the team in home runs with 23 and hit .303. He was having a terrible post season at the plate hitting an anemic .150, with two walks in 12 games, for an on-base percentage of .227.

After every game the Astros give an award for the MVP for that game and Gonzales won it last night. His leadership and the Astros triumph give us at least three  significant compliance lessons for today. The first is around specialization and the siloed nature of many corporate disciplines. In the general corporate world, that is called being siloed. In compliance you often times need to be a superior utility player who is good at every job.

There are multiple lessons. First and foremost is the problem of siloing in corporate America. This concern of siloing even reaches into the Department of Justice (DOJ) and its Evaluation of Compliance Programs document and under the FCPA Pilot Program. In its remediation prong, it notes companies will be evaluated, in part, on whether the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) and the compliance discipline within an organization have the opportunity to move into other areas of the business. This concern is also reflected in the insight that a compliance practitioner should know how to read a balance sheet and if you do not know how to, you had better learn now.

Another lesson from Gonzales is execution. If you have ever been lucky enough to see Baker Hughes, a GE company, CCO speak you know he continually reminds us that what makes a compliance program successful is execution. This is where the rubber meets the road. It is not enough to have a paper program but you must execute on that program. The DOJ would call that operationalization.

Ben Reiter, writing in Sports Illustrated, said, [Dodgers closer] “Jansen appears to be Mariano Rivera’s heir, and he possesses something close to Mariano Rivera’s cut fastball. He threw three to Gonzalez to lead off the ninth. The first was low, but a strike. The second was low, but also a strike. Jansen threw the third faster by two miles an hour—it came in at 94—but there was a difference: it was waist high. Gonzalez said “He’s the best closer in the game. But it was a mistake.” Jansen did not execute and Gonzales did. Game tied and now we were on to extra innings.

Gonzalez role on the Astros brings up another lesson for the compliance practitioner. It is that the middle of your organization is just as important in operationalizing your compliance program. It may start at the top but execution comes in the middle. In a On management column in the Financial Times (FT), entitled “Middle managers: the real captains of industry”, Andrew Hill explored both the plight and potential of the middle manager, who he called “the captains (of the team) on the field.” He cited a study by UK’s Chartered Management Institute which found “31 per cent of middle managers did not believe their leaders involved them in communicating the group’s strategy.” For the compliance practitioner, there was even more stark information, that “Four out of five thought they were the key to building a trusting workplace culture, but less than a third thought this vital role was being properly valued.” Finally, “in tight situations, though, these are the people who will hold the organization together, because they have the trust of everyone in the chain of command.”

A company must have more than simply a good ‘Tone-at-the-Top’; it must move it down through the organization from senior management to middle management and into its lower ranks. This means that one of the tasks of any company, including its compliance organization, is to get middle management to respect the stated ethics and values of a company, because if they do so, this will be communicated down through the organization.

So it’s back to Houston for games three, four and five. Will the Astros sweep and close out their first World Series championship ever? I cannot answer that question with clarity at this point but I do know my heart is in for one wild ride and there will not be much sleep to be had this weekend. Go ‘Stros!


This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2017