Business and ethics: a practitioner’s perspective

Business and ethics: a practitioner’s perspective

In March 2015, the Junior Honours students in the MA Business and Management degree programme were privileged to have a guest lecture from Elaine Mays, the Chief Compliance Officer of Wood Group as part of the Business and Ethics course. Dr Jillian Gordon, Lecturer in Entrepreneurship, highlights the main content of Elaine’s lecture.

Elaine delivered a truly informative lecture to around 150 junior honours students on business ethics, bribery and corruption. After introducing the students to the core business activities of Wood Group, she then set out what business ethics means in practice. Using a quote from the Chronicles of C.S. Lewis, “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching” she described business ethics as the application of ethical values to business behaviour by applying principles based on standards, morals, laws and industry practice, which go beyond the legal requirements.  Elaine explained the importance of having a business ethics policy in the organisation to maintain, strengthen and protect the reputation for integrity and business ethics, and to ensure that all personnel conduct all business activities in an ethical manner and comply with applicable anti-bribery and corruption laws.

Students were then introduced to the Perceptions of Corruption World Map published by the organisation Transparency International, and derived from their Corruption Perceptions Index 2014. Elaine spoke about some of the corporate challenges of operating in countries perceived to be high risk including: unfamiliar geographies, complex local laws, cultural barriers, political and financial complexities and a general lack of common understanding of business ethics.

From a practitioner perspective students were introduced to the benefits of having a robust compliance programme and how it supports a business to: reduce compliance violations and related risks, mitigate risk of enforcement proceedings, fulfil the fiduciary duty to shareholders and also provide comfort to stakeholders and regulators. Elaine explained how compliance is a core component of corporate social responsibility and outlined why the cost of having a robust compliance programme will always be less than finding yourself on the wrong side of the law. Elaine was able to use her legal expertise to set out the two main international laws for bribery and corruption: the United States – Foreign Corrupt Practices Act 1977 (FCPA) and the more recent UK Bribery Act 2010, as well as highlighting the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention 1999. Students gained valuable insight into how these have impacted on the world of business, as Elaine introduced and discussed a number of high profile cases where international companies had been pursued under the FCPA and where settlements have been reached.  These cases illustrated the global reach of United States anti-corruption legislation, something that has been highlighted again very recently in relation to the FIFA bribery and corruption scandal currently unfolding, with the alleged bribe-takers in this instance being pursued for violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), US money-laundering laws and tax evasion.

Students were also introduced to the key risk areas of bribery and corruption for many global businesses: tendering, vendors, mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures, gifts, entertainment and travel, tax and customs, regulatory framework, financial controls and government work.  Elaine was able to round off the lecture with a short quiz to test the students on what they had learned and the students were left in no doubt of the fundamental importance of business ethics.

About Elaine Mays

Elaine began her legal career in private practice in 1990, before moving to her first in-house position in 2002. She became involved in legal compliance 10 years ago upon joining Vetco Gray, her appointment coinciding with the organisation having entered into a settlement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for matters arising under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  Elaine moved to Baker Hughes in 2007, who entered into their own settlement with the DOJ and SEC later that year. As part of these settlements both companies agreed to have independent monitors appointed to oversee and advise on their global compliance programmes. This provided Elaine with first-hand experience of the ethical standards, behaviours and safeguards that enforcement authorities expect of businesses, wherever in the world they are operating. In July 2012, Elaine was appointed Chief Compliance Officer for Wood Group where she is the focal point for matters of business ethics and compliance across the Group’s global activities. Wood Group is a leading independent services provider for the oil & gas and power generation markets.  The company employs around 38,500 people worldwide and operates across 50 countries. The company is headquartered in Aberdeen, Scotland.