Yes, indeed the Grateful Dead can and does inform your compliance regime as today is my 1000th blog posting on the FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog. To say that I ever thought I would see this day or this many blog posts, would portend a level of clairvoyance that even Carnac the Great could not conceive of pontificating upon. I had struggled with a theme for this momentous accomplishment but my sublimely-grounded English wife brought me down from the ethereal clouds with the following suggestion, “Even an old dog can learn new tricks.” Nothing like being married to a younger woman.
So today, I want to write about some of the things I have learned on this 4+ year journey, which began in late 2009/early 2010 after a serious automobile/bicycle event (Box Score: Hummer-1 Tom-0) where about the only thing I had on my hands was time while I was at home convalescing. I started to explore the world of social media, engaging on Twitter, webinaring from my home office and blogging. I was so un-savvy in this arena that about the only positive thing my teenaged daughter could say about me was “Dad, you are so unhip, you are retro. But that is cool too.” The first thing I learned was that even a complete computer misfit and social media idiot could set up a blog on WordPress. It is not only easy but free. I cannot say with any pride that some of my early blogs were very good but I can say that for a lawyer, whose only skill was to be able to perform word processing in Microsoft Word, I could type and then upload a blog post into WordPress. At that point in my blogging career, that was a major accomplishment.
Although it did take some time, I learned how to stop writing like a lawyer, with full citations in each blog, coupled with as much lawyerese as I could manage, by finally adjusting to a blogging format. I also relearned an old lesson, which says that if you really want to learn about a subject, write on it. I remember one of the first things I learned when researching the Travel Act was that this Kennedy era law, passed largely through the efforts of Bobby Kennedy, was designed to help in the fight against organized crime. So who would say a 60 year old law cannot be used for a 21st century purpose? Or maybe even a Watergate-era like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) could not have an expansive use, beyond that for which it was passed in 1977? I also learned that if you put out solid content people will read and listen to what you have to say.
I learned there are some great people out there blogging in the ethics and compliance space. I have met some fabulous colleagues through my blogging who have not only been incredibly supportive but whom I now cherish as good friends. Some of them include Mike Koehler, the FCPA Professor, for his scholarly rigor and continued intellectual challenges. Dick Cassin, the Dean of FCPA bloggers, for his unflinching support to myself and so many others. Mike Volkov, former prosecutor and DC-insider, who is always around to bounce a tough question off. Howard Sklar, who was my This Week in FCPA podcast partner, until we lost him to the corporate world. Francine McKenna, a great and generous mentor for myself and many others and the go-to person all issues in and around the accounting world. Jim McGrath, the internal investigations guy, who brings a former state prosecutor’s perspective to how investigations should be handled and critiqued. Matt Ellis, whose focus on and insights into South America (as in – it’s not a country) continue to shine a light on anti-corruption issues south of the border. Matt Kelly, Editor of Compliance Week, who saves some great witticisms for his weekly blog posts. These are but a very few of the folks I am now privileged to call friends because of my blogging.
I learned that there is way too much white noise in the FCPA space. The FCPA Professor calls them FCPA Inc. and Mike Volkov derides them as the FCPA paparazzi. Whatever you might call them, they put out reams and reams of information, sometimes useful but many times not. What I have tried to do is synthesize some of the most useful for the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO), compliance practitioner or anyone else who does the day-to-day work of anti-bribery/anti-corruption compliance. There are many, many things you can know but a far smaller subset of what you need to know. I try to bring to the compliance practitioner what they need to know. That is why the subtitle of my blog is ‘The Nuts and Bolts of FCPA Compliance’. I have tried to write about things which the compliance professional can use in the everyday practice of compliance.
I have learned that blog posts, which I thought were the most important, may turn out to be the least viewed blogs. Conversely, posts I did not think would be of great interest turned out to have the largest number of one-day hits. For instance, the largest single number of one-day hits I had was an article from two years ago about the SNC-Lavalin corruption investigation in Canada. [For a blog about FCPA compliance-go figure.] The second largest number was a recent blog post using the GM internal investigation as an exploration in the differences between a corporate legal function and its compliance function.
I have learned that by committing to something, you become much better at it. My first year of blogging, I tried to put out 2-3 blogs per week but beginning in 2011, I committed to a daily blog post. Once I made that commitment, blogging became a part of my workday. Once it became a part of my workday, it was like any other project or assignment. I had to set aside the time to work on it. It has made me a much more efficient and better writer to know that I need write something, during my workday. Yes there have been times I was up at 5 AM to write a post or stayed up way past my school-night bedtime trying to crank something out but those situations have become few and far between as I became more disciplined about my blogging.
But most of all I have learned that blogging is fun. It is fun because it is a challenge to write about something in an informative and engaging manner. It is fun to tie a Shakespeare play to a compliance and ethics theme. It is fun to read a week’s worth of Sherlock Holmes’ stories and tie a compliance topic to a story each day for one week. It is fun to find out what happened this day in history and use it as a hook to grab your readers’ attention. It is fun to engage in a debate with the FCPA Professor on a topic of mutual interest, where we look at the same thing, yet see it from different perspectives. And it is fun when you meet someone for the first time and after you introduce yourself, they say to you “When is a rose, not a rose? When it’s a FCPA violation”.
Where will the next 1000 blogs posts take me? I have no clue but if they are as much fun as the first 1000 posts have been I hope that you will continue to join my on This Long Strange Trip.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2014