Ben Affleck has certainly had his share of ups and downs
in his professional career. He shared an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for
Good Will Hunting with his fellow Bostonian buddy Matt Damon at age 25.
Thereafter things were not always at that same height for him professionally.
He had a very public affair and engagement to Jennifer Lopez, in which there were
jointly knows as 'Bennifer' which ended when the engagement was broken off. He
appeared in some movies that, how can one best put it, were somewhat less than
Oscar worthy, Gigli and Surviving Christmas come to mind. But
once again proving that F. Scott Fitzgerald's adage that "There are no
second acts in American lives" is not, and perhaps never was, true Affleck
was awarded this year's Oscar award for Best Picture for his work as the
Director on Argo.
In a recent article in the Houston Business Journal
(HBJ), entitled "Business lessons from an Academy Award winner", Harvey
Mackay wrote about some of the lessons that he drew from Affleck's professional
journey. Affleck's lessons provide some interesting perspectives for the
compliance practitioner. When accepting the Oscar, Affleck said "I never
thought I would be back here, but I am because of so many wonderful people who
extended themselves to me, who had nothing to benefit from it." From this
statement Mackay drew the lesson of the importance of networking and mentoring.
Mackay wrote that "Over the years he has reached out to a lot of people in
Hollywood who helped him learn the movie business and advance his career.
Members of the Academy were able and willing to help him, even though he wasn't
necessarily in a position to reciprocate."
As a compliance practitioner, the importance of
networking and mentoring cannot be overstated. Not only is it important in
assisting to advance your own career but also your professional grown. In my
own blogging and social media career I have been fortunate to have several
mentors; Dick Cassin, the FCPA Professor and Francine McKenna being three
prominent ones. But more than simply having such personal mentors, compliance
professionals need to turn to others in our profession for professional
guidance and support. Almost everyone I have approached for help, guidance or
advice has given it to me freely, without even a hint of any desire for
One of the ways you can do so is to set up an informal
compliance roundtable in your city or community. By this I mean an informal
group, without dues or fees that can get together and discuss matters of mutual
interest. Together with Mike Snyder, of Donovan Watkins, and Dan Chapman we
have recently started one here in Houston. Last week I spoke at one such group
for compliance professionals in Singapore. But the key to making such a group
work is that everything said is off the record and stays within the four walls
of the room. In these events, compliance practitioners can ask very detailed,
fact specific questions and draw upon a wide variety of sources for guidance.
All one really needs is a facilitator to throw out one question and see where
it goes from there. So if you do not have such a group in your city, town or
community my suggestion would be for you to send an email around and see who
might be interested. I think that you will find it can be a great way to
network and either find or be a mentor to other compliance practitioners.
The second business lesson that Affleck gave during his
Oscar acceptance speech was that "You have to work harder than you think you
possibly can." I was in private practice for 20 years. One of the
boneheaded things I always thought was that lawyers went in-house so they would
not have to work so much. Boy did I get that wrong. If you work for an
international company you know that time zones are basically meaningless. Five
PM in China is Five AM in the US. I also heard several in-house lawyers tell me
that they went to work for a company for lifestyle reasons. While that may have
been true, they found out what I found out, that in-house lawyers work very
long and very hard.
In almost every compliance group I have ever known, there
are never enough resources. If that is the situation you face, try and find a
way to do more with less. There are several other departments in your company
which may be able to help in the goal for your company to do business in a
manner compliant with your Code of Conduct and the Foreign Corrupt Practices
Act (FCPA) and UK Bribery Act. One department which you can work with is Human
Resources (HR). HR can also be used to 'connect the dots' in many
divergent elements in a company's FCPA compliance and ethics program. The roles
include training, employee evaluation and succession planning, hotlines and
investigations and background screenings. By asking HR to expand their
traditional function to include the FCPA compliance and ethics function, you
can move towards a goal of a more complete compliance program, while not
significantly increasing costs. Additionally, by asking HR to include these
roles, it will drive home the message of compliance to all levels and functions
within a company and help to make such behavior will become a part of a
The third business lesson is one that Affleck closed his
Oscar acceptance speech with and as Mackay noted "possibly the most important".
He quoted that Affleck said, "It doesn't matter how you get knocked down in
life because that's going to happen. All that matters is that you gotta get up."
For the compliance practitioner, I would say this means that even with a robust
compliance program in place, you will still have issues arises because there is
no compliance which can assure 100% compliance, 100% of the time. Just as
Affleck said that "you gotta get up"; in many ways if you do have a
compliance issue arise, what matters is how you handle it.
In the context of Paul McNutly's three maxims regarding
any compliance issue; he said there were three questions he would ask when he
was Deputy Attorney General. They were: (1) What did you do to prevent it?;
(2) What did you find when you looked into it?; and (3) What did you do when
you found out about it? But in large part, he focused on Maxim 3. So, in
addition to a thorough investigation and reporting, the key is what did your
company do to remedy the issue in question? Did you discipline those employees
or third parties involved in the conduct at issue? Did you remedy any defect in
your compliance program which may have allowed the issue to arise? Did you
expand your compliance program to handle future issues? Did you train employees
based on the issue or other high risk factors? The point follows Affleck's last
statement, "you gotta up". How you respond as your company's compliance
representative may well be a significant factor in determining your final
result with the Department of Justice (DOJ) or Securities and Exchange
Ben Affleck's Oscar win was certainly a validation for
someone who fell from great heights early in his career. While most of us may
not scale to such heights early in our career, or perhaps ever, the tools,
techniques and work ethic that Affleck used so that he once again could give an
Oscar acceptance speech are some of the same tools that you can use as a
compliance practitioner for your own career, to better and advance yourself
professionally and to help your company through any compliance issues that may
arise during your tenure in a compliance group. They are good words for you to
think about going forward.
Visit the FCPA Compliance and Ethics Blog,
hosted by Thomas Fox, for more commentary on FCPA compliance, indemnities and
other forms of risk management for a worldwide energy practice, tax issues
faced by multi-national US companies, insurance coverage issues and protection
of trade secrets.
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© Thomas R. Fox, 2013
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