Does the World Need Another Compliance Provider? – Part 1

Richard Bistrong was an International Sales Vice-President in the Defense Sector for most of his career, spending an average of 250 days per year overseas, and twice residing in the United Kingdom. In 2007, the US Department of Justice and UK authorities targeted Richard for FCPA and other export violations. As part of that process, Richard started cooperating with US and UK law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies, and his cooperation spanned a period of five years.  Richard’s cooperation concluded with his being sentenced as part of his own Plea Agreement with the US Justice Department, and Richard ultimately served 14 months in Federal prison, and was released in December 2013.

Richard now holds multiple consulting, writing and speaking engagements worldwide, sharing his first-hand and front-line experiences, with the ultimate goal of complementing existing compliance programs and professionals. Richard’s compliance consultancy, Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLC, addresses real-word overseas corruption risk and focuses on “unspoken” organizational messages, including compensation and business strategy, to help identify corporate goals and strategies, including forecasts and incentives, that might be in contradiction to anti-bribery compliance.

We were fortunate enough to hold an in-person interview with Richard in order to really understand how he took a life-changing experience that ultimately destroyed his sales career, and turned it into a positive and useful tool to help him stand out in the compliance industry and guide others to better calibrate compliance programs to real-world corruption risk. It’s a perspective that even in our own experience, we have never seen before, and hence, decided to invite Richard to visit with us.

This interview was conducted by Jack Kelly, Managing Director and CEO of The Compliance Search Group and Rachel McCray, the Brand Development Associate and Editor in Chief of our blog and newsletter, ComplianceX.

Here are some of the questions we had a chance to ask Mr. Bistrong:

Do you think corporations would be better served having professionals with real-life business experience in Compliance roles?

That is a great question, and I am glad you decided to ask it first. When I got home from prison and I started to “deep dive” into the compliance world, I saw a very well experienced field of lawyers, auditors and investigators, as well as compliance practitioners, who were all providing essential compliance services. However, what caught my attention was that no one had any front-line experience with respect to conducting business overseas and actually confronting corruption in their work.  

Thus, while addressing the obvious, in that a compliance team needs to have essential legal, audit and investigatory resources, I absolutely think that a front-line perspective in that discourse is just as essential. Having spent a decade as an international sale VP, five years as a law enforcement cooperator and fourteen months in prison, I have seen this issue from many different perspectives, and I think it is one that has some learning moments for others who serve in compliance roles.

It goes back to a resonating statement I heard at a recent compliance symposium, where a compliance VP from a large multinational said “I know I have a robust compliance program, and one which would likely satisfy the regulators, but what keeps me up at night is if it is understood in the field.” So, there we have the problem: Is “defensible compliance” the same as “understood compliance?” From my perspective, if a front-line voice is not brought into a compliance program’s development and roll-out, then there is a great danger that it will be perceived as a “bolt-on” set of rules and procedures that is not calibrated to real-world risk. When that happens, anti-bribery compliance can be perceived as nothing but a “work around” at the field level, where compliance and commerce collide.  

Worse, if front-line business teams perceive incentives and compliance as a zero-sum game they will ponder “what does management really want, compliance or sales, as I can’t deliver both.” When employees start making those compliance calculations “on the fly,” it is to everyone’s peril. That much I know all too well.

Thus, we need to take those business issues like incentives, forecasts and frontier market growth strategies, out of organizational silos and start looking at how they impact behaviors. I recently co-hosted a webinar where we polled almost 400 respondents as to whether human resources had any role in looking at incentives to make certain that they align with anti-bribery compliance goals. Only 27% responded that HR is a part of the process. That’s an enormous compliance silo with significant organizational implications.

 How does it feel to embark upon a completely new career as a thought leader in deterring financial crimes, corrupt practices, and bribery?

As I am sure you can imagine, in many ways, this was a painful process for my family and I. When I got home, a profession addressing corruption issues was not exactly what we all had in mind for my future. In fact, I had a small boutique marketing firm that I started in 2010 which awaited me.  However, when I saw the absence of behavioral and front-line perspectives in the compliance debate and discourse, I felt compelled to be a part of the conversation.  While the repeated debates about “tone at the top” and “how compliance should be structured on the organizational chart,” are essential, they do not provide those in the field with any real value or solutions in their own struggles. Believe me, when you are working in remote regions and offices with little oversight, the only tone that matters is when your supervisor calls you at the approaching end of a financial quarter and asks “how are your numbers shaping up?”’

Are audiences receptive to your message?

I think the best way to reflect on that is by the quality of questions that are being asked after my presentations, and they are all extremely engaging and challenging, so I think yes. Sharing this experience is not always easy, but as Dorie Clark states in her recent book “Stand Out,” sometimes making an impact requires getting “outside the ivory tower” and delivering a message that is “accessible and actionable.” That is exactly what I am trying to do by offering a “boots on the ground” view of anti-bribery compliance.

This article first appeared in ComplianceX Blog on June 9th, 2015 and is reprinted with their permission.