“I’ve seen, honestly, in the past couple of years, a shift away from that separation back towards what’s actually going to move the needle, what’s operationally, going to work, back toward reporting to GCs.”
This episode of Principled features Forrest Deegan, Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer for Abercrombie & Fitch, where he is responsible for enhancing the company’s corporate compliance program and third-party risk management program. Deegan has oversight of functional compliance activities, ownership of specific compliance policies, and works with internal partners to foster a speak-up culture throughout the business. He is also a lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago School of Law, and was selected by Compliance Week as a "Top Mind" for 2018. In this episode, Deegan shares his path to success, the relationship between compliance and legal, the importance of communication, the future of ethics and compliance, and how we can better equip students for careers in the field.
ABOUT FORREST DEEGAN
Forrest Deegan is the chief ethics and compliance officer for Abercrombie & Fitch, where he is responsible for enhancing the company’s corporate compliance program and third-party risk management program. Deegan has oversight of functional compliance activities, ownership of specific compliance policies, and works with internal partners to foster a speak-up culture throughout the business.
He is a lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago School of Law, and was selected by Compliance Week as a "Top Mind" for 2018.
Deegan previously served as a director and senior director of compliance at A&F, where he supported a wide range of legal, compliance, and business projects, and served as the lead in-house attorney for A&F’s first international joint venture, joint operation and franchise agreements.
Prior to moving in-house, he worked for nine years at law firm Arnold & Porter in Washington D.C., representing multinational pharmaceutical, financial and consumer products companies in advocacy and consulting capacities. He received his J.D. with honors from Duke Law School, and his B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin.
WHAT YOU'LL LEARN THIS EPISODE...
- [0:46] Tell our listeners about how you became attracted to ethics and compliance, the path you took to get to your present position as the CECO of A&F.
- [0:57] Forrest started in private practice about 15 years ago, and did work for many different types of clients. As he gained their trust, he began to do things that were a little more interesting, and ended up in a compliance career at a law firm. When he and his wife moved to Ohio, he came to Abercrombie & Fitch as their first director of corporate compliance, and finally that evolved into the “chief ethics and compliance officer” title.
- [2:56] What was behind the decision to add ethics into that title and how has that changed what you do?
- [3:03] In in-house retail, people wear more hats, and A&F didn’t need to separate ethics from compliance. It was an easy transition to combine the two together.
- [4:08] As someone with a legal background, you’re well aware of the big debate that was taking place over the last decade in the NC community about whether compliance should be separate from legal and if so, how? And obviously, some companies have made that decoupling. Now that we’re about 10 years into that, what do you see? Are programs better when they’re disassociated from legal’s oversight and why do you feel that way?
- [4:34] The corporate compliance community is very collaborative; they get together and discuss issues like reporting and job responsibility. Forrest has seen a shift in the past couple of years back toward reporting to general counsels. He doesn’t think there is an issue with either as long as the work gets done.
- [5:50] What do you feel about how this has all played out? A lot of the concerns were around general counsels exercising too much control over compliance and not having it be as independent? Has that not really played out in the real world?
- [6:08] Even if you’re not in every meeting, if you have access to the board or audit committee, that can suffice. The communication between parties works well when there is independence and an open channel.
- [7:08] What would you say is the biggest change in the last five to 10 years as to how ethics and compliance is practiced at corporations?
- [7:18] Forrest is the first chief ethics & compliance officer at A&F and his peers at other retailers are the first there. The mindset of corporate compliance has shifted over the last 10 years, and people now understand that it is a broader field.
- [8:29] What do you see driving this profession forward through the 2020s?
- [8:36] There will be change on both the “want-to” and “have-to” sides. A big area of need for change is consistency in risk management and assessment. Forrest hopes to see increased collaboration with all of the lines of defense: hotlines, store health and safety, and a third-party monitoring program. He also wants to learn to have a more coordinated effort with those that help enforce the standards of conduct, the principles, and the value statement.
- [11:10] You also teach a compliance course at the University of Chicago. What does the class cover? How long have you been doing that? What are you trying to accomplish and what do you get out of it personally?
- [11:20] Forrest teaches a seminary called Corporate Compliance and Business Integration. It helps students see how many of the legal and regulatory regimes they’ve been studying play out in a corporate compliance program. Forrest’s class goes through anti-corruption, info stack and data breach rules, AML and OFAC, and employment-related harassment and discrimination issues. Forrest also brings in other speakers from the tech, entertainment, and banking industries to talk about their compliance journeys.
- [14:12] How do you weave in conversations about ethics and culture into all of this? Obviously, compliance doesn’t really work without those things and they’re a key component to this and I’m guessing that’s a part of the curriculum too?
- [14:23] The understanding of your business, evaluation of your risks, and use of your resources adds up to your culture of compliance. If everyone understands their role as an agent of the company, you will maintain a stronger culture of compliance.
- [15:38] How can universities and even high schools do a better job to incorporate lessons about ethics and compliance into their classes and get students ready for these issues that they’re going to have to deal with in their workforce?
- [15:55] The more chances that students have to see the skills in practice, the more concrete some of the concepts they’ve learned about in school become to them. Having access to practitioners and seeing how the things they’re learning apply in everyday life is the best way for students to learn.
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