Nick Gallo asks some of the earliest C&E people to provide career advice

Joe Murphy

by Joe Murphy

Recently I had the opportunity to join a discussion with 3 other long-term compliance and ethics professionals, at the invitation of Nick Gallo:  Nancy Higgins, Gretchen Winter and Pat Gnazzo. We have all known each other for decades, back to the beginning of compliance and ethics history.

Nick asked us about getting ahead in our field.  I wanted to share here some of the points that I covered or had in my notes for the program. We had a list of interesting questions in advance but were not able to get to all of them.  So some points covered here were not covered in the program.  I do recommend you go back and listen to the recording for all of our comments and suggestions. 

Legal background vs non-legal background

There are often concerns about whether you can get ahead in compliance and ethics without being a lawyer, and certainly legal skills are valuable. But it is the nature of what compliance is that tells you what background you need.  Compliance and ethics is not the practice of law.  Instead, it is about how you manage people in organizations.  The key word is “manage.”  So what matters is knowing how to manage organizations. Thus you need to know management tools such as how to use incentives and controls, how to communicate, how to investigate, how to evaluate. These are actually the elements in the Sentencing Guidelines standards: steps you take to manage projects and get things done in organizations. These are not central elements of a law school curriculum. So a legal background helps, but is not essential.

What are the axioms that C&E lives and works by to ensure long term success in the field? 

This was a very thought-provoking question. Here is one axiom I live by, from Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  You have to be aware that much misconduct comes from power imbalances.  For example, harassment is always about power.  Wells Fargo’s “8 is great” happened because a leader with a lot of power made people follow an idiotic idea to its logical and unlawful end.  

Whether it is top bosses actually engaged in crime, or deliberately encouraging it, or taking steps to cover it up, the top brass – those with power – lead the charge when it comes to much corporate crime and misconduct.  And even deeper within companies, it is bosses with power over other workers that often take the lead in misconduct.    

Here’s an axiom that goes with this: “The big guys get in trouble and the little guys get ethics training!”  This quote typically gets a smile from the many people who have been through the process of dealing with a scandal.  I think it reflects an unwillingness to step up to the reality of how common it is that corporate misconduct starts with the people at the top – the people with the power.    

When it comes to axioms that I have heard from others there is often a big emphasis on law versus ethics, but mostly based on denigrating the role and value of the law.  For example, they say “law is about what you have a right to do, whereas ethics is about what is right to do.”  This sounds clever, but in reality it typically reflects fundamental disrespect for law and viewing law as some abstract, dried out idea. But I think you need to first understand what the law is and why it is there.  Law represents society’s judgment about the priorities among values, and that deserves to be respected. On the other hand, those cliches about how ethics and values are the real center of everything simply blink the reality that values constantly conflict with each other, and law plays the valuable role of setting priorities among those conflicting values. 

What are the opportunities in our practice?

Ours is an evergreen field. I can confidently predict there will be a new wave of misconduct. I can’t tell you for sure now what that will be, I can just assure you there will be another one.  There always is.  For the best advance warning on this, just read the Wall Street Journal every day (what my colleague Jeff Kaplan called the “corporate rap sheet.”) You will also see that the government regularly issues warnings. Follow these.

Remember, too, that compliance is needed in all types of organizations, with a broad range of compliance risks. For example, universities all need compliance programs. 

In terms of specific areas, currently privacy remains very big.  There are also legal risks associated with ESG, such as greenwashing and misrepresenting your ESG status in the securities markets. ChatGPT is currently identified as a major potential compliance risk area.  In fact, maybe you could try using ChatGPT to find out about compliance risks in AI and ChatGPT!

How best can we prepare for future opportunities in this field?

One tool I recommend for anyone in our field is LinkedIn.  As Roy Snell, former CEO of the SCCE explained to me, it is the network for professionals.  I recommend learning about it and how best to use it.  You can keep up on new ideas, plus actively network on this platform.

Another step I recommend is thanking people.  I learned that thanking people was one of the best things you could do for others and for yourself. In my life it made a dramatic difference.  Once I read a story about a successful person who went back to a grammar school teacher who had retired long ago, to tell her how much she had helped him become successful in life.  This touched me, so I went back to my college, contacted my favorite college professor, and thanked him for his help and influence.  We met and discussed the area of compliance and ethics that I had been thinking about and writing about. After a couple discussions he suggested we write a book together.  Since he was already a well-established author, we had no problem getting our work published.  Together Rutgers distinguished professor Jay Sigler and I produced the first book ever written about the field of compliance.  We also started a compliance newsletter in 1991.

As all my friends in the little town of Haddonfield, where I live now, have heard from me many times, during my entire life I have never heard anyone complain about being thanked too much!  Of course be sincere in this, but it is a good practice.  And remember, too, that to have an effective compliance program you need to address incentives.  Having a system for thanking people for helping the compliance program and showing compliance leadership can be one element of this incentive system.

How do you manage self-care with a stressful career?

They say your mental health is better if you have different worlds, and different networks in your life. Have your family and time with them separate from work. Also, have a sense of humor!

I personally recommend ballroom dance.  There is nothing that takes you away from the world of work as much as social dancing. It is also an easy way to meet and get to know other people outside of your work world.  And by the way, we do have a Society of Dancing Compliance and Ethics Professionals.

What’s the biggest mistake you learned from?

From the beginning, my focus was on writing. At first I thought the best way to do writing was in secret, so no one else would take my idea. I learned that this was unnecessarily lonely, caused me to miss out on getting valuable input from others, and allowed me to easily go in wrong directions. Now, in my major projects I seek out partners.

In our Compliance and Ethics: Ideas & Answers journal, for example, Jeff Kaplan, Rebecca Walker and Adam Balfour are my partners, and we get better ideas and have more fun.  When I was in-house I allied with others.  We formed a compliance committee to get early input from the key players in the company. We rarely had disagreements with them when we rolled out a new initiative, because they had been right there at the creation.

I also learned a related mergers and acquisitions concept called “syndicating the risk.” This means, if you are going to do something, let everyone know in advance, so they can’t beat on you afterward for what you did!  Plus, our results were always better because of the input we got from bringing others into the project early on.

Advice to someone early in their E&C career?

Like many experienced professionals, I recommend networking with people in the field.  However, I network in a manner that is comfortable for me as an introvert.  Read others’ publications, then reach out. Let them know what you appreciate in their work. Ask them questions about what they have written. You can do this as a form of networking. 

I also recommend learning active listening.  As an investigator I listened with my pen. I took notes and asked questions.  Learn to listen as early and as often as you can. Learn to read people’s emotions as you listen. Get away from thinking about yourself when talking with others. Listening is a people skill that works in all areas; it can be a real advantage in investigations but a life changer in all parts of your life. This is a skill you can learn about and develop through practice.  

How do you become successful as an introvert (as opposed to an extrovert)

First, if you have any questions about being an introvert, by all means read the excellent book:  “Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain.  Recognize that being an introvert is a strength, not a diagnosis. 

Use your skill and your ability to focus as an introvert to learn new things and to practice them.  Learn how to do public speaking.  Read about it, check out YouTube videos on this, even talk with an expert. Then practice the skills.  

Team with people who have complementary skills and like to do the things you don’t like to do.  It is best if it is someone you trust and like.  But not someone who expects you to go to parties afterward.

When I left corporate practice I first worked with Kirk Jordan, who was quietly confident and comfortable with people.  I was quiet and an introvert, but by then well known in the field. He was not loud and pushy (I couldn’t work with someone like that) but very outgoing and social. But we both liked research and writing, and were able first to build a successful consulting practice and then create a successful online compliance training company, Integrity Interactive.  Again, following the model of bringing in key partners, we brought in Carl Nelson, whose strength was building up companies and managing people.  We built a successful company that we were able to sell to SAI Global.  I was then and still am an introvert, and I have no regrets about that. But I learned from experience not to do things alone.

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