Counting to 10, Internet Fact-Checkers, and Integrating Acquisitions

6 Aug

My saintly mother used to tell me that when I get upset, I should count to 10 before I opened my mouth. It saves you, she would tell me, from saying something that you don’t mean, or that will make you look stupid. This wisdom applies doubly for a writer. Just like you shouldn’t shop when you’re hungry, you shouldn’t write when you’re riled up. I ignored that advice. But thanks to the wonder that is the Internet, I always have people fact-checking my work.

To this particular fact-checker—and you know who you are—thank you for pointing out what I should have caught the first time.

On Friday, I wrote about the Nordam Group non-prosecution agreement, and how Dan Kahn and Stephen Spiegelhalter at DOJ, along with their boss Chuck Duross, plus Nordam’s counsel Carlos Ortiz all had a brain freeze and included a requirement that Nordam train all their third parties.

Turns out, it was me who had the brain freeze, not them.

I wasn’t wrong: requiring a company to train all their third parties is stupid and unrealistic. Totally unworkable.

And if that’s what the Nordam Group agreed to, that would be ridiculous. This is an example of why it’s so important that you actually read all of the NPA, not just the single paragraph that generated so much ire. If I had bothered to actually research rather than just react, I would have written something entirely different, and much more complimentary.

As it turns out, both DOJ and Nordam’s counsel were actually pretty reasonable about training. More than that…very reasonable, incredibly reasonable, perfectly reasonable. Let’s look at what the Nordam Group NPA actually requires Nordam to do vis-a-vis training.

In paragraph 8, Nordam agrees that its compliance program needs to be communicated effectively both internally and “where necessary and appropriate” to agents and business partners. This requirement comprises training employees and, “where necessary and appropriate,” training third parties. It also requires annual certifications of compliance with the training requirements signed by its internal employees and by its third parties, but again, only “where necessary and appropriate.

In fact, I’d find it difficult to find another place where Dan, Stephen, and Chuck could have included “where necessary and appropriate” without it looking like subliminal advertising. “The company agrees to implement financial [cough...where necessary and appropriate...cough] controls that [cough...where necessary and appropriate...cough] ensure transactions will accurately [cough...where necessary and appropriate...cough] reflect….” You get the idea.

What the DOJ required of Nordam makes perfect sense, and allows for exactly the kind of flexibility I accused the Department of neglecting. I would also argue that it’s a loophole that you can drive a truck through, and I would suggest using the biggest 18-wheeler you can find, but that’s another post.

Upon reflection, and upon doing the work I should have done last Friday, I now think this was just the DOJ suggesting that training third parties is a good practice, but recognizing that third parties present their own challenges.

If I were in Chuck’s seat (or Dan’s or Stephen’s) I would likely take a different approach. I would probably require companies ensure that third parties have their own program; I wouldn’t make Nordam export their training to anyone. But the difference isn’t nearly the chasm that I thought it was on my reading of just the one paragraph—which I’ll get to in a second—that I wrote about in the last post.

We’re much closer together than I thought we were, as it turns out. Just a short hop, as it were. I can’t argue with an approach that doesn’t make it too prescriptive. The DOJ seems to recognize that each company in each market is different, and each company’s risk profile is something that can change over time. And the DOJ seems to be indicating that this is something companies should be thinking about based on what’s practical, the market risk, business risk, transaction risk, and other red flags. The DOJ is trying to thread the needle here, and does a damn fine job of it, IMHO (more H, now that I’ve actually read the thing).

As it turns out, the requirement as it’s actually written seems to prove a different one of my central contentions: that the DOJ is extremely reasonable and measured in how it prosecutes corporations.

So where does the offending paragraph from my last post come from?

In paragraph 13 of the NPA, the DOJ talks about how Nordam should integrate new acquisitions. The NPA requires Nordam to do appropriate due diligence [n.b. is "appropriate due diligence" redundant?]

It also requires that Nordam apply its policies to the new acquisition “as quickly as practicable.” Including requiring Nordam to “train directors, officers, employees, agents….” Even here, it only requires this training “promptly.”

Plus, the DOJ includes a separate qualifier: it only requires training of employees of a new acquisition “who present corruption risk to the Company.” I would suggest that this qualifier has exactly the same effect as “where necessary and appropriate” that we saw above.

I’m actually blown away at how reasonable the DOJ is being in this thing, yes? [One assumption I'm making is that this wasn't something that the DOJ didn't want in there, but outside counsel did. It's possible, but I would think, unlikely]. I hear outside counsel say all the time “train everyone.” Even the DOJ isn’t saying that. The DOJ is saying that companies need first and foremost to think. Where’s the risk? How does that risk impact my operations? What’s the most reasonable way to respond to that risk?

In this context, the requirement to train all employees who present corruption risk makes perfect sense. I would suggest the DOJ could have reasonably gone further and required training every employee in a new acquisition.

This requirement isn’t about training everyone in a third party, it’s training everyone in a new acquisition. One problem that we see over and over is companies not integrating new acquisitions. Watts Water comes to mind. If that new acquisition has or initiates problematic transactions, the DOJ has little pity (and rightfully so). Requiring Nordam to integrate “as quickly as practicable” and “promptly” seems eminently fair and reasonable.

I would love to blame Dick Cassin. After all, he made the same mistake. But what’s written on my site isn’t Dick’s responsibility, it’s mine. As soon as I hit “publish,” it became my error.

So, let’s just get past this little SNAFU, shall we, and back to our regularly scheduled ranting and raving? Just better informed.

One Response to “Counting to 10, Internet Fact-Checkers, and Integrating Acquisitions”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Coffee Talk Shop… » Blog Archive » High Tide: From Standard Chartered’s Slide to Deleting Posts for Cash - August 7, 2012

    [...] up Teva Pharmaceutical’s subpoena and selects some voices rising against corruption. Howard Sklar reminds himself to count to 10. The FCPAmericas blog has some guidance for complying with World Bank sanctions. [...]

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