The E&C Pulse - September 4, 2019

 
 
 

SEPT. 4, 2019

The Journey From Corporate Felon to Ethics Champion

 

Richard Bistrong was vice president of international sales and marketing for a large, publicly traded manufacturer of products for the law enforcement and military markets from 1997 to 2007. During that time period, Bistrong was getting corruptly obtained pricing his competitors were charging before the non-public tenders were officially opened to the public, and used that inside information to win United Nations peacekeeper contracts.

A UN investigation into a separate and different matter uncovered Bistrong’s actions. He was fired, and the U.S. Department of Justice targeted him for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. He proffered to the DOJ, confessing to the crimes they knew about, and telling them about crimes they didn’t know about.  

 

He eventually agreed to a plea bargain to a one-count conspiracy for violating the FCPA, and that led to three years of covert cooperation with U.S. and UK authorities, followed by two years as a cooperating witness in multiple countries. At times, he wore a wire to gather information on prosecution targets. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison, of which he served nearly 15 months, returning home in December 2013.

 

Bistrong, now the chief executive of Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLC, talks about what he was thinking as he was committing crimes, the impact deeply personal disclosures about his personal life had on his relationships, and how he responds to people who say he is cashing in on his crimes by being a well-paid corporate speaker.

 

At what point did you decide to work to promote better corporate behavior?

 

When I was in prison, I read a book that had a significant impact on my life, “Reinventing You,” by Dorie Clark. By the time I got through the first two chapters, I realized I was reading a road map of personal and professional recovery. As Clark shared: “People make mistakes; it’s only human. But working hard, being consistent, and building up goodwill over time will enable your community, and the world, to better understand where you’re coming from, and where you hope to go with your life. They may even mobilize to help you get there.” 

 

Those words turned me from despondency to hope, as I thought that perhaps the self-inflicted crucible of my own career might help others who face similar challenges in their work, where there is a natural tension between the unrelenting pressure to succeed and the pressure to comply. 

 

At the time you committed your crimes, did you think about the ethics of your actions? Did you feel bad?

 

I wasn’t thinking about the ethical or legal consequences of my conduct on my former employer, on society--and sadly, not on my family, liberty and health. I thought of my conduct as a win-win. I was selling life-saving products such as armored vehicles and armored vests to the people who needed them the most. I wasn’t tampering with products, so I wasn’t thinking I was hurting anyone. 

 

My company got all these large sales, the end-user ended up with a world-class brand, often at lower prices and faster deliveries due to the corruption. The intermediaries moved on to the next transaction, and the often poorly paid public official got something to make ends meet. Personally, I was meeting all of my commercial objectives and targets, and hence, earning my bonus.

 

I was ethically numb to the consequences of my conduct. ... I could have asked my company for clarification and guidance, but I didn’t. I asked myself the wrong question, “Do they really want to know,” and decided on their behalf that they didn’t.

 

READ FULL INTERVIEW  

 

 

                                                                                                          BEN DIPIETRO
@BENDIPIETRO1
BEN.DIPIETRO@LRN.COM

 

 

PRINCIPLED PODCAST

 

Katie Lawler Banks on Ethics to Create Wins for U.S. Bank

 

Season 2 of Principled kicks off with an interview with the Global Chief Ethics Officer of U.S. Bank.

 

LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE

 

MIND NUMBERS

25%/43%

Research from Gartner's 1Q19 Global Talent Monitor found 25% of U.S. workers actively are looking for new jobs, while 43% said they have a high intent to stay with their current employer.

 

THE ELEVEN

 

Walmart says it will stop selling some types of ammunition once current stockpiles run out, and ask shoppers not to open-carry weapons in stores, in the wake of ongoing mass shootings, Associated Press reports. The New York Times says more chief executives should follow Walmart CEO Doug McMillion and wade into the gun debate.

 

Companies in Hong Kong are worried about what protests are doing to the territory's reputation, but they may be more worried about pressure being employed against them by the Chinese government, BBC reports. 

 

Where does Big Tech go to wrestle with the difficult questions of what their inventions are doing to society? Big Sur, New Yorker reports. 

 

Many companies work hard to prevent corruption and crime, but misconduct happens despite these efforts. Harvard Business Review looks at what else organizations can do.

 

Investors are pressuring oil and gas companies to oppose efforts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to weaken methane emissions rules,

Pensions & Investments reports.

 

Corporate executives will face greater accountability when all stakeholders are given a seat at the table, Aspen Institute's Miguel Padro writes in Quartz, while GuruFocus.com says beware of companies that don't maximize shareholder value.

 

Culture risk is a hot topic among boards, and Deloitte offers tips on what directors can do to make sure they are on top of the issue.

 

Financier Worldwide Magazine takes a look at managing employee compliance training.

 

There's a difference between adopting a goal to achieve board diversity, and taking action to make it happen, Hardy Smith writes on the Board Source blog. One area boards are taking action: bringing in directors with cybersecurity backgrounds, Forbes reports.

 

Researchers found chatbots are capable of intellectual conversation equal to that of humans, showing how fast artificial intelligence is advancing, Defense One reports.

 

The U.S. Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network created a new division focused on money-laundering threats, Samuel Rubenfeld writes in Kharon Brief.

 

 

THE QUOTE

"I'm less concerned about whether being a good corporate citizen burnishes a company's reputation. That's just an added benefit. I believe it's a responsibility, and there is no negotiating on responsibilities.”

 

– Ursula Burns, business executive

 

 
 

THE NUDGE

Sometimes, adhering to one's principles comes with a price. The Wall Street Journal parted ways with Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter John Carreyrou because of its policy against letting reporters collect fees for speaking engagements. Carreyrou, whose WSJ reporting on Theranos exposed the company and led to his best-selling book, "Bad Blood," chose to leave the paper because he was losing out on lucrative paydays for giving speeches. No one is wrong here; just interesting to note adhering to principles can have a cost.

 

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