I conclude my week-long podcast series on compliance lessons from Shakespeare and by using my favorite character in all his work. He is The Fool from King Lear. Of Shakespeare’s many theatrical innovations, his transformation of The Fool from the Renaissance Court Jester of songs, music, storytelling, medieval satire and physical comedy to commentator is right up there for me. The Fool became closer to the Greek Chorus. Shakespeare brought the Chorus commentary function back. As noted in Wikipedia, “Where the jester often regaled his audience with various skills aimed to amuse, Shakespeare’s fool, consistent with Shakespeare’s revolutionary ideas about theater, became a complex character who could highlight more important issues. Like Shakespeare’s other characters, the fool began to speak outside of the narrow confines of exemplary morality. Shakespeare’s fools address themes of love, psychic turmoil, personal identity, and many other innumerable themes that arise in Shakespeare”.

While Lear’s Fool was actually a font of wisdom and commentary, the same cannot always be said for the corporate fools who put evidence of bribery and corruption in emails, excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint slide deck presentations. In Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) training I always remind attendees that if you put your bribery scheme in emails, it will be uncovered. Further, if you put together an excel spreadsheet tying your nefarious acts, such as hiring the family member of a foreign official or state owned enterprise employee to the award of a contract, it will be uncovered. Finally, if you put your fraudulent scheme in a PowerPoint slide deck for presentation to senior management, you will be uncovered.

The issue previously arose at GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK) who put together such a presentation in 2013 for targeted bribery campaign code named “Vasily”. More recently was Volkswagen (VW) and its now infamous emissions-testing scandal. In an article in the New York Times (NYT), entitled “VW Presentation in ’06 Showed How to Foil Emissions Tests”, Jack Ewing reported that a top technology executive at VW prepared a PowerPoint presentation for management in 2006, laying out in detail how the automaker could cheat on emissions tests in the United States. From my experience, if you have an illegal scheme enshrined in a PowerPoint slide deck presentation, even if you never implemented that scheme, it probably means that the propensity for such is pervasive throughout the system.

You might think only idiots would put into emails, spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations not only intent to violate laws but also their plans and how the company would benefit from such illegal conduct. As bad as all of this is, it points to an even greater insight relevant to FCPA enforcement, that being the Myth of the Rogue Employee. The GSK and VW PowerPoint presentations both added yet another spike in its coffin. If your corporate culture is such that you not only communicate internally about illegal conduct but also record those communications in the form of PowerPoint presentations, it speaks to a culture that supports and embraces skirting the rules. Commentators who claim that companies should not be punished by the actions of a small group of employees miss this greater truth; these employees would not engage in illegal conduct if their company, either through compensation, succession or other remuneration, did not reward them for engaging in such conduct.

That is the greater truth that Lear’s Fool would impart to corporate management.

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