FCPA CHINA TRIPLE PLAY

Posted in Bribery in China, Business Crisis Management, Crisis Communication Response, Crisis Communication Strategy, Crisis Communication Success Stories, Foreign Corrupt Practices, Las Vegas Sands, Microsoft Corp., Wall Street Journal on March 25th, 2013 by mnayor

The Las Vegas Sands. The Wall Street Journal. Microsoft Corporation. What could these three companies possibly have in common? Try China. Each is being investigated by the SEC and the Department of Justice for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

 

Last year the Sands disclosed that it was being investigated. It received a subpoena from the SEC in February, 2011 and was advised that DOJ was investigating as well. Some allegations that have come to light are that Sheldon Adelson, the head of the Sands, instructed a top executive to pay about $700,000 in legal fees to aMacaulegislator whose law firm was outside counsel to the Sands. As a result of the government’s investigation the Sands authorized its independent Audit Committee to look into the matter and it recently released its preliminary report. The internal investigation is ongoing.

 

Also last year, the DOJ opened an investigation into allegations of bribery in Chinaby the Wall Street Journal. The WSJ also embarked on its own internal investigation which is close to finished.

 

Finally, a news story broke this week that Microsoft Corp. is being investigated as a result of allegations of potential bribery by employees in China (as well as inRomania and Italy). This is such a new story that Microsoft has not yet begun its investigation.

 

Three different stories with the same tag line, all within the month of March, 2013. So far it seems as if this is the year of the FCPA, even though, in fact, FCPA cases have declined over the last two years. All three of these investigations were prompted by whistleblowers of one type or another. How did each company react and which reaction would appear to best serve its corporate interests?

 

First, the Sands. To its credit the Audit Committee found that there was a likely violation of the books and records and internal controls provisions of the FCPA and this was reported in the Company’s form 10-K filed with the SEC. But the 10-K went on to say in a rather self-serving way that the Company has improved its practices with respect to books and records and internal controls. It also states that the preliminary findings do not have a material impact on the financial statements of the Company, do not warrant a restatement of previous financial statements and do not represent a material weakness in the Company’s internal controls over financial reporting as of December 31, 2012.

 

The Wall Street Journal investigation is part of a much larger DOJ criminal investigation into the News Corporation, WSJ’s parent company, related to revelations that its British newspapers hacked phones and bribed officials in order to obtain information for articles. As part of the overall internal investigation, the Chinese allegations were thoroughly reviewed. The WSJ found no evidence to support the claim or any impropriety, and maintains that the informant is most likely a government official seeking to disrupt or retaliate against the WSJ for reporting on Chinese leadership corruption.  It is not clear that DOJ has closed the matter.

 

Microsoft’s matter is new. But its response to the news report that it is being investigated was straight forward. It said that the matters raised were important and that allegations of bribery should be reviewed byU.S.agencies and its own compliance unit. A spokesperson said that allegations of this nature arise from time to time, that it is possible that sometimes an individual employee or business partner may violate the Company’s policies or break the law, and that its responsibility is to train its employees, build a system to prevent and detect violations, and to investigate allegations and take appropriate action.

 

What can we learn about crisis communication from these three stories. The Sands reaction leaves something to be desired. While it is admirable to admit that the company may have violated the law it is presumptuous and self-serving to draw conclusions that basically are up to the government. The SEC and DOJ may have a hard time swallowing the Sands’ conclusions. It would have been far better to state that it is cooperating with the agencies to resolve all issues and reach determinations that will not have far reaching consequences to the Company.

 

If we take the WSJ’s comments at face value, there is no reason not to aggressively maintain one’s innocence. Yet, it might have been better to acknowledge more clearly that DOJ had not yet signed off on the WSJ’s findings and that the WSJ was working with DOJ to conclude the matter. Instead in a buried paragraph in its own story it states that it is unclear whether the Justice Department considers the matter resolved or still open.

 

The Microsoft reaction is  the best. It is the most honest and direct and states the facts of corporate life: We know our responsibility. We do our very best. Occasionally, a bad apple may slip through. Crisis communication does require that a company assess and anticipate the concerns of stakeholders. Good judgment is needed to walk that fine line between allaying those concerns, and acting appropriately and respectfully to those who have control over the outcomes of your investigations.

 

 

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FAILURE TO ANTICIPATE: THE WALMART EXAMPLE

Posted in Anticipating A Crisis, Anticipation, Business Crisis Management, corporate integrity, Crisis Communication Strategy, Crisis Management, Crisis Management Planning, Doing the right thing, Ethics and Crisis Management, Honesty and directness in dealing with a crisis, Wal-Mart on May 3rd, 2012 by mnayor

On April 22nd, 2012 The New York Times broke a huge story on Wal-Mart’s Walmex subsidiary. The subsidiary is alleged to have systematically engaged in bribery in order to grease the wheels of  its store expansion program in Mexico. Two of its most senior executives have been directly implicated in the scheme and the subsequent cover-up. The fallout has been dramatic including upcoming Congressional and Justice Department investigations and investigations within Mexico, a precipitous drop in Wal-Mart’s stock price, and perhaps worst of all, a huge black eye to WalMart’s reputation for integrity.

 This is a story that will not go away soon, even with the short collective memory for which the U.S.public is noted, and even with the perception we have, mistaken or not, about how business is done inMexico. The investigations and potential lawsuits will wend their way forward but Wal-Mart has an immediate problem: how to revive its reputation which was essentially snuffed out by one newspaper story. Unless there are very clear explanations that go beyond mere flim-flam, cut your losses Wal-Mart. Cooperate with investigations to ensure that they are completed rapidly. Develop your best explanations. Negotiate your fines for violating the Federal Corrupt Practices Act. Make restitution wherever it is required. Terminate those who were complicit. Get your house in order as quickly as you can.

 But this article is not about what to do now. It is about what should have been done. Wal-Mart’s story is as old as the hills. It is the same story as Richard Nixon and Watergate, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, Enron, Goldman-Sachs. And on and on and on. It is the story of hubris. It is the story of deceit. It is the story of the ostrich.

 Faced with a calamitous issue, a powerful person, a powerful company, a powerful country is most likely still to believe that there is a good chance of getting away with something. Lie low and time will make the issue recede into history. Put a band aid on and no one will dare to pierce your impenetrable shell. What would have happened if Wal-Mart had entertained a genuine independent internal investigation when it had the opportunity, and made those findings known to the Justice Department and toMexico? There would have been a much smaller story. Wal-Mart would at least have been accused of being honorable. Its reputation for integrity would have been burnished. It would have paid a price but perhaps not as steep a price as it will now pay.

 Why don’t people get it? Because there is a gambler in all of us, even when the odds are poor. Is there a chance we can get away with something? Let’s give it a try. What do we have to lose? Ask Richard Nixon. Ask Bill Clinton. Ask all those who have tried to wheedle their way out of messes only to get caught. Ah but then again there is always that other guy, the guy who got away with it. We should follow him. He’s a smart guy. He knew the angles. If he could do it, we can too.  Right now things are calm. Let’s not rock the boat. But in the long run the straight-shooter almost always wins.

Crisis management is not only activated when a cris occurs. It begins prior to a crisis in order to avoid a crisis or lessen its severity. Preparation and right-thinking separate those companies and organizations from those that merely kick the can or determine to ignore or purposefully hide a potentially serious issue.

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THE NEGATIVE PUBLICITY ENIGMA

Posted in Anticipating A Crisis, Business Crises of our own making, Business Crises We Create, Business Crisis Management, Corporate Crisis Management, Crisis Communication Strategy, Crisis Management, Crisis Mitigation, negative publicity on December 1st, 2010 by mnayor

Robert Walker wrote an article recently in the New York Times Magazine section entitled Good News, Bad News, about the negative publicity the GAP received over its attempt to change its iconic logo; and, in general, the fallout or lack thereof that can be expected from negative attacks.

He’s got a point. The old adage that any publicity, negative or positive, is good publicity is certainly not always true. But some forms of negative publicity don’t always do harm. Such is the case with the GAP logo fiasco.

What forms of negative publicity can hurt an organization? Clearly, reports of poor goods and/or services can be harmful. Reports of Johnson & Johnson’s tainted products over the last year have not helped its image. Reports of poor airline service have the effect of customers shopping for alternatives. A hotel devastated by a hurricane or earthquake or a terrorist incident has the same effect.

Stories about poor management will also turn customers off. Look at the banking and investment banking industry. All of these kinds of negative publicity have the effect of creating a crisis, and require skilled crisis management to counter the effects. The crisis management needed has to tackle two fronts: operationally to truly “fix” the problem and crisis communication to inform the public.

But there are other forms of negative publicity that don’t affect products, services or management, such as the GAP logo situation. True, some people were offended or reacted poorly to the proposed change, but what of it? It would take an extraordinarily sensitive GAP shopper or potential GAP shopper to boycott GAP because of this event.

A business crisis is one that effects a company’s reputation or bottom line. Did an unpopular proposed logo change genuinely affect GAP’s reputation? Did it affect the company’s bottom line? I think not. If it did, it was very short-lived and very ineffective. In fact, most stories about the incident stressed the many attributes about the business, its clothing products and its branding success. While GAP would most likely have opted for no publicity over its logo, no harm was done.

The moral of the story? Manage well. Provide excellent products and services. You may still be unable to avoid negative publicity or a crisis that is beyond your control but if your base is solid you will weather the storm.

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PREEMPTION: THE TWO EDGED SWORD IN CRISIS MANAGEMENT

Posted in Business Crises of our own making, Business Crises We Create, Crisis Communication Strategy, Crisis Litigation, Crisis Management, Crisis Mitigation, Liability Communications, Litigation Communications on November 3rd, 2010 by mnayor

 Crisis management and product liability are inextricably linked. Whenever a product fails and causes injury or damage to buyers, a crisis can erupt. The liability of manufacturers and vendors have tightened dramatically over the last hundred years, from the theory of caveat emptor or let the buyer beware, to today, in some cases, strict liability. State laws on matters of health (including the environment) and safety have provided consumers with greater and greater protections over the years.

Businesses of all kinds must be more diligent than ever. Even if negligence and/or misrepresentation are not at issue, a company can still find itself in a great deal of trouble. Accusations concerning causation, erroneous manufacturers’ claims, and customer-product incompatibility can raise the specter of liability and place a company at risk.

Not all products are 100% safe for all people at all times. Thus the concept of warning labels has taken on greater importance, especially in those situations where use may be abused, inappropriate or be accompanied by additional risks. We see this more and more in such industries as pharmaceuticals, foods, toys, automobiles and cosmetics. In today’s world some warnings may not be deemed sufficient because they are either not perceived as strong enough or not evident enough on packaging.

In recent years some companies and even whole industries have looked to preemption as a form of product liability protection from individual and class action suits. Federal preemption is the trumping of federal law over state law when that is the express or implied intention of Congress. Most product liability law is state law through a state’s police powers, and ultimately its state statutes, its common law and court decisions. Oftentimes, federal laws are not as tough as state laws and therefore afford more protection to business. Federal legislation, and even federal regulations, sometimes takes precedence. In fact several agencies of the federal government such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, The Federal Trade Commission and its Bureau of Consumer Protection, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have declared that some of their specific regulations preempt state law and bar or limit consumer redress. 

Federal court decisions have been mixed. In one recent Supreme Court decision the Court ruled that a medical device manufacturer could not be sued by a consumer because the manufacturer had won FDA approval. But in another, the Court held that a patient was not barred from suing a pharmaceutical company for damages just because the product displayed an FDA-approved label.

Preemption may create a dilemma for a company. Certainly, successful preemption can provide the type of protection that can avoid financial calamity. On the other hand, combative and bellicose pursuit of a safe harbor can have an extremely negative effect on a company’s reputation. It is quite easy to appear as consumer-be-damned if preemption coverage is not handled discretely. Reputation management is equally as important, and a company must strike a balance between finding that safe harbor and doing the right thing, between securing financial escape and retaining and developing public support, respect and even admiration.

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WHAT REALLY CONSTITUTES A BUSINESS CRISIS

Posted in Business Crises of our own making, Business Crises We Create, Crisis Communication Failures, Crisis Communication Response, Crisis Communication Strategy, new customers at the expense of old customers, What is a Business Crisis on October 5th, 2010 by mnayor

 A business crisis can be anything that can negatively effect a company’s reputation or bottom line. Many events at first blush may not appear to be serious. HP’s firing of Mark Hurd and the subsequent entanglement with Oracle was not a big deal in the scheme of things, even though internally it must have been a shocker. However, the death or resignation of a key person in any organization could very well be serious for any company depending on just how key that person really was. Natural catastrophes, product recalls, labor disputes, computer data losses. The list is endless. Some are temporary. Some can cause the demise of a company. Most can be handled with honesty and the realization that it may be necessary to absorb losses over the short haul in order to achieve a long and healthy business life.

Two distinct categories of crisis need to be recognized. In one we lump all those events over which we have no control, such as product tampering by outside forces or natural disasters. Even in these situations there are always some actions we can take: tamper-proof packaging, liability insurance, proper protocols. But generally these events can blind-side us.

The second category contains all those events that might have been avoided had we chosen to take the actions necessary to protect ourselves and the public. Some are obvious. We look at the BP oil spill and see things that surely could have been done.  Other events are not so obvious and these are the ones that can be insidious. When a management believes it is doing the right thing but in fact is fueling a potential crisis we have the makings of a catastrophe. A couple of examples will make this abundantly clear.

Market share is usually very important to a company, oddly sometimes more important than the bottom line. There is always great competition for new customers. Many times the efforts and resources devoted to advertising, marketing and selling to new customers are at the expense of a company’s loyal  customer base. This can even be seen at the local level. Where I live heating oil companies consistently offer new customers a deal for the first year in order to lure them in. This, of course, is done at the expense of old, loyal customers who have to make up the slack. The result is that many savvy oil customers these days do a lot of shopping each year to find the best deal. Loyalty is a thing of the past. On a national level the problem has gotten even more serious. A recent financial story in The New Yorker last month observed that there is almost universal recognition that customer service in this country has deteriorated. Such service is considered a “cost”. Companies are looking for the customers they don’t have so they are willing to spend on marketing and advertising but are not as interested in adding to their costs of service. The article made it sound a little like cynical dating. Companies are interested in luring you in but then once they have you, they don’t quite value you as much as the next potential customer they want to corral.

Lack of service is not just a pain for helpless consumers. In this internet age they can do something about it. This is how a company can sow the seeds of its own destruction, and inexorably create its own crisis. Companies and their products and services are being rated on the internet and consumers don’t hold back. They tell it like it is. Granted, competitors may be planting some of these negative comments but for the most part product and service evaluations are being taken at face value. The moral of the story: be faithful to those who brought you to the dance, or the consequences could be severe.

Another form of self-inflicted crisis involves weathering the storm. Whether in politics, professional sports, or in business, “players” still believe that because of their importance they can ride out any issue or problem. They can’t. We can all easily tick off a dozen or so examples, but the latest is surprising. Johnson & Johnson has recently gone through a spate of recalls of tainted children’s Tylenol and Motrin. The Company has generally kept a low profile and even contracted with a third party to buy up Motrin off retail shelves rather than announce an actual recall. And for the last decade it has been settling with claimants for a variety of injuries and death allegedly due from Ortho Evra, a contraceptive patch made by its subsidiary, Ortho McNeil. It appears clear that the current management of J&J has not followed in the footsteps of the management that handled the Tylenol crisis of 1982 which is often cited as the quintessential example of crisis management in modern corporate history. Back then cyanide had been found in bottles of Tylenol in the Chicago area. J&J immediately issued public warnings, issued a product recall, created tamper-proof packaging, and before long was back in business. The Company was up-front and willing to bite the bullet in the best interests of the public. Unfortunately that does not appear to be the philosophy today. There is clearly a danger in believing one’s invincibility. The trust and respect of the public is at stake, and once lost, is very difficult to retrieve.

A crisis is not just the obvious explosion at a plant or a mine. Companies can and do create their own crises. Companies must evaluate their philosophy, their strategy and their honesty. They must take action to minimize their vulnerabilities but at the same time be prepared to take action in the best interests of the public if they value company longevity.

Originally published in the Management Help Library of  http://managementhelp.org/blogs/crisis-management/2010/10/13/what-really-constitutes-a-business-crisis/

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CRISIS MANAGEMENT AND THE BLAME GAME

Posted in Business Crisis Management, Crisis Communication Implementation, Crisis Communication Response, Crisis Communication Strategy, The Blame Game on October 5th, 2010 by mnayor

Over time, crisis management pundits have considered many types of responses to a crisis and have sometimes recommended actions and reactions that today seem out of step with effective solutions for most crisis situations. These out-of-step solutions fall into two categories: 1) stonewall the media and the issue will eventually die without you fueling the topic; and 2) a strong defense is a good offense, namely attack the accuser, deny the issue or point the finger elsewhere.

In today’s media jungle, stories don’t die. If something doesn’t pass the smell test, someone in the media is going to pursue it. Ignoring a crisis by ignoring the media doesn’t cut it. And if the media doesn’t pick up on an issue, the public certainly will, via Facebook, U-Tube, Twitter or some other yet to be invented faster-than-light communications vehicle.

In times of crisis most corporate managements would prefer to avoid the limelight, deal with its issues, solve its problems and escape negative publicity. Understandable, but dealing with a major crisis like an ostrich is terribly risky and makes a company look like it’s not owning up when the crisis is exposed.  

So let’s assume you are willing and able to deal head-on with the public. Most senior executives are used to being in control. They pull the levers, call the shots and aren’t used to being told what to do. There is a tendency to be defensive. “I nurtured this baby, I grew it and I know how to defend it”.  The reaction often lacks finesse. Instead of appearing open, the reaction is authoritarian. Instead of appearing honest, the reaction is defensive and oftentimes gravitates towards the blame game or, just as bad, the rationalization or justification game. 

All of these “public” reactions can hurt your organization, because you will have missed the point. There is a problem. Acknowledge it. The problem has ramifications. Acknowledge them. No one is interested in finger-pointing or excuses, even if you are correct. There is time for that.  Don’t act like the whiney school kid or the weasel that can’t or won’t take responsibility. The public expects companies and organizations to man-up. Period. Man-up and get moving so the problem can be fixed. The public respects organizations (and their spokespersons) that emanate competence and authority.

When BP went to Capital Hill to testify back in May, 2010 they were joined by Halliburton and Transocean, Ltd., two of BP’s subcontractors. All three looked foolish because of the finger pointing and denial that ensued. What to do?  Act like a responsible citizen whether you are at fault or not.  A responsible citizen acknowledges the problem and positions itself to take whatever action it can to help fix it. It investigates and determines the best course of action based on its expertise. The public needs to know you are responsible citizen. You convey that when you take immediate, competent action.

But what if you are not to blame? If you aren’t, good for you. It will come out in the end but as an immediate step the public needs to know that you recognize yourself as a player with a role, and that you willingly undertake that role for the public good. Expensive? Perhaps. Worth it. Most often a resounding yes, in terms of public perception and goodwill. If you are to blame the same holds true. Your legal team and your insurance advisors may have made it clear that you cannot say anything that admits culpability. Even so you can act as the same responsible corporate citizen as you would if you were not to blame. You can act sensitively, you can investigate and you can devote whatever resources you have to help fix the problem and keep the public informed regularly along the way.

Preserving your reputation and directing your efforts to problem-solving are the first order of business. Assessing blame comes later and is best left to third parties. No one ever looks good saying it is someone else’s fault. An insurance investigation, a public hearing, a regulatory investigation, a private investigation that is made public are just some of the opportunities you have to provide input to show the root causes of a crisis. Let a neutral source absolve you of blame. In the end it carries far more weight, and is more persuasive and acceptable.

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COMMUNICATIONS – INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL

Posted in Crises Communication, Crisis Communication Planning, Crisis Communication Strategy on August 10th, 2010 by mnayor

When experts expound on crisis communications the immediate perception is that they are talking about communications to the public at large. Oftentimes what comes to mind is PR. How do we look good? How do we get the monkey off our backs? Of course, this type of communication is important. We want the public to know about the problem, what we are doing about it and how it occurred in the first place.  But this is really the tip of the iceberg.

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QUICK RESPONSE VERSUS INTELLIGENT RESPONSE

Posted in Anticipating A Crisis, Crisis Communication Strategy, Crisis Management, Crisis Management Planning, Crisis Management Response on July 27th, 2010 by admin

A maxim in crisis management is that you should control the dialogue. It is better to leap out in front rather than be reactive to questions and probing which often leads to the deer caught in headilghts phenomenon.

What is not said quite so often is that a quick response must be an intelligent response that is backed up by facts and knowledge. Which brings us to the Obama Administration. Early in his term President Obama held a press conference and was asked why it took him a couple of days before he made a statement on AIG bonuses. He gave the CNN reporter an icy stare and stated that he liked to know what he was talking about before he made public statements. Bravo I thought.

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GOLDMAN SACHS PART II

Posted in Crisis Communication Failures, Crisis Communication Strategy, Crisis Litigation, Legislative Advocacy, Liability Communications, Litigation Communications on April 29th, 2010 by admin

Being sued is one thing. Hopefully you can defend yourself. Proving your or your company’s innocence can be a full-time job. A good defense not only saves you money – damages, including punitive damages – it also saves your reputation. In fact, the costs of litigation, as high as they are, can, in part, be chalked up to the cost of good public relations. Guilty parties, however, pay the price.

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PLANNING FOR POST CRISIS MITIGATION

Posted in Anticipating A Crisis, Crisis Communication Planning, Crisis Communication Strategy, Crisis Management, Crisis Management Planning, Crisis Management Response, Crisis Management Strategy on March 23rd, 2010 by admin
No one can anticipate exactly what kind of crisis may befall your organization. Nevertheless there are many things that can be done – let’s call them generic – that will extremely helpful if and when the day comes that you need to call out the troops. And that is precisely the first step.
Assemble a team. Naturally, you have to assemble people who are trustworthy, loyal and competent. You may find that certain employees fit the bill while others are doubtful. You are not limited to employees. You most likely have relied on the services of outside people – people who have been your organization’s kitchen cabinet – throughout the years. Lawyers, accountants, marketing and public relations people, former employees who have gone out on their own. Shake the tree and you’ll be surprised who can be helpful.
Next, prioritize your needs. Who are the technical people available to fix the most likely problems? Who are the ones most capable of immediate fact-finding? These are the people who need to be mobilized quickly in order to isolate and address the most immediate concerns. Who are the individuals who can set up a document management system, document the issues, preserve evidence, research and fact-find and make information available to the very top. Finally, who are those who will speak for the organization. A communications strategy is a must. Generally speaking there is one spokesperson, perhaps with a backup individual. Information from the technical people and the document management people have to flow to the communicators who must be fully informed. Legal specialists and public relations personnel round out the communications team.
Communications is the key to effective crisis management. Of course, an organization’s problems need to be solved. But just as important, the public needs to know what the problems are, and what you are doing about them. The day of “no comment” is over. In fact it is long gone. Whether it’s Toyota or the local public utility, communications strategy is largely the same. An organization must be quick or else others will set the agenda and you will always be on the defensive. An organization must be proactive otherwise it will always be reactive. Openness and honesty coupled with the most up-to-date facts constitute good communications strategy. Staying on message, taking bold action to protect the public or making its needs paramount generally rule the day, regardless of whether you have been totally successful. Best intentions and extraordinary efforts are very often held in high regard by the public, especially when communicated regularly, clearly and openly.
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