Navigating the Complexities of Global Legal Compliance

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    It took me a while, but I have decided to subscribe to a physical newspaper again. I have been reading the news casually on my tablet. What made me decide to subscribe to a paper version again? Compliance and Ethics! Every time I open the Wall Street Journal or the Financial Times, I read news and articles about our great profession. 10 years ago, we were lucky if a single article about ethical misconduct hit the news. But now that there are so many stories that we could use, I really need to keep up with the daily papers.

    I wonder if our senior executives and Board members are also reading these newspapers. The stories I read every day tell me that all too often, senior executives have a hard time acting ethically when that gets in the way of making money.

    It reminds me of an eighties movie that I have been a big fan of since I was a young kid: “Planes Trains and Automobiles” (1987). Two sales guys (played by the fabulous John Candy & Steven Martin) miss their flight and decide to share a car back home to their families. In one scene, we see them driving the wrong side of the road because they were fighting over the wheel and didn’t pay attention while taking a wrong turn. A driver on the right side of the road pulls down his window and tries to help them by shouting “You’re going the wrong way!”. But the two laugh at him while shouting back “How do you know which way we’re going?” This describes quite accurately how we as compliance professionals often have to solve the problems of our leaders, after they have taken a wrong turn and are stuck on the wrong side of the road. Their problems only get bigger now that their journey continues: stock price goes down, reputations get tarnished and bad statements are being given to the press.

    A core element of our job will always be trying to put out fires like that. However, we need to commit ourselves to a transformation of our roles, from being that fire fighter to becoming a pro-active,  business advisor who is involved in the daily decision-making process of the company’s management. To achieve that, we need the active buy-in from our leadership.

    If your company is serious about building an ethical, values based culture, that transgresses from just words and pictures in a Code of Conduct to serious commitment, the first action should be to create some space at the decision-making table for the Compliance officer as the guardian of value-based leadership.

    How we can convince our leaders to give us that seat at the table? Show them some paper clippings of today’s and yesterday’s newspapers. Or, maybe better, show them that rather funny clip of Planes, Trains and Automobiles.   


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    Tonnis Poppema
    Tonnis Poppema
    Tonnis J. Poppema is a distinguished legal and compliance expert with over two decades of executive experience across diverse industries such as technology, chemicals, telecoms, and mining. Currently the Managing Director and Board Member at PTTGC International, he oversees strategic investments and subsidiary operations. Tonnis holds a Juris Doctor in International Law and an LL.M in European Law, and has previously held significant roles at Trafigura, Nyrstar, and GSMA. Known for his expertise in ESG, risk management, and supply chain, he has also provided high-caliber consultancy to major corporations. Multilingual and globally minded, Tonnis is celebrated for his professional rigor and business acumen.