E: Can you talk a bit about how you came to your current position at Solae?
CF: I joined Solae in November 2007 when the Chairman of Solae called on me to join him as General Counsel. We had worked together at DuPont, where I served as legal counsel for a number of strategic business units in Switzerland, Hong Kong and Germany over the course of several years. Prior to joining DuPont, I worked for five years with a law firm in Switzerland.
E: How has your extensive international management experience played a role in the way that Solae’s ethics and compliance program crosses different national boundaries?
CF: Working and living abroad has helped a lot. It has provided insights about the different cultures and national sensibilities that ultimately translate into the way individuals, companies and authorities operate and how rules are made and commercial relationships evolve. My international experience is helping me look at issues from a global perspective, and not just in a US-centric way which often happens whenever one is working in global headquarters in the USA; this has proven helpful particularly given the ever increasing regulatory scrutiny most industries are now subject to.
E: What is your group focused on these days? Any new or major upcoming ethics & compliance initiatives?
CF: Over the past three years, we have revitalized and improved Solae’s compliance programs and processes. Solae’s management team has embraced this renewed and increased focus on ethics and compliance. Ethics and compliance, taken together, count as one of Solae’s four core values. Our other core values are respect for people, safety and health, and environmental stewardship. My role is to champion Solae’s compliance program, and especially to make sure that it is understood, applied and stays relevant, fresh and world class. To achieve this we frequently vary our the content of our compliance communication and our training methods; no unlike other companies, training methods include company-wide, functional and individual face to face and online training, brown bag events, email blasts, quarterly newsletters, engaging posters, employee focus groups, etc. We try to keep these events creative and fresh so we can keep all employees worldwide engaged in ethics and compliance.
In 2011 our goal is to keep our ethics and compliance messages front and center. Our focus will be on increasing awareness about recent changes to our Code of Conduct including our anti-bribery efforts and on recent changes to our policy on trade with sensitive countries such as Iran, Syria, Sudan, Cuba and now, again, Libya.
To strengthen the integrity of our supply chain, we will extend key ethics training, especially around anti-bribery and adhesion to our Code, to third parties acting on our behalf, such as distributors, agents and representatives, starting with those in emerging markets.
Our last major goal for the year is to publish Solae’s first corporate social responsibility report. It is important that we share our story which includes a rich history of social and environmental impact on local communities as well as society at large including various projects that encourage local food production and economic development while enabling the production of highly nutritious foods through the use of our soy ingredients in countries where protein is in short supply.
E: What are you most proud of at Solae’s ethics and compliance program?
CF: I am very proud of the quality of our compliance program. Over the past three years we have built a compliance program going beyond requirements set out in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines in three major ways.
First we created a very strong and consistent tone at the top, beginning with Torkel Rhenman, our CEO, who was our first supporter and who, in many ways, is now pushing us to do better and more. His efforts and those of the leadership team pushed that tone to the middle management to such an extent that the entire organization now embraces Solae’s ethics and compliance culture.
Second, we have embarked on a cultural transformation after realizing that there was no “Solae culture”, but rather that Solae’s culture was defined by the cultures of the companies and businesses our parents contributed to form Solae. With the assistance of consultants, all employees were asked to take a deep look at ourselves, at our values and then at the values we aspired to. The hard work was to get alignment on a manageable number of behaviors we needed to stop or do more of, to start change the way we interact and collaborate with one another, while remaining true to our core values. Obviously, such an effort cannot be completed overnight and we therefore continue to work on our culture. Everyone agrees that we are now working in an environment that is more transparent and open, in which employees feel safe to report incidents and ask questions. In my view, such a culture is the indispensable foundation to any successful compliance program.
Third, we adopted the same open and frank communication style we have with our employees to communications with third parties. We increased the frequency and depth of our interactions with direct customers, consumers, trade associations, the food industry, the communities in which we operate, the media and the regulatory authorities, to make sure they knew what we stand for in terms of the quality of our products and also of our willingness to do what is right. This outreach has been helpful in many ways. For example, a little over a year ago, we faced regulatory issues regarding Europe’s zero tolerance for unauthorized genetically modified traits. These had to be addressed and we then realized that our open, transparent and constructive communications with regulatory authorities were extremely beneficial and more likely to lead to an acceptable resolution of those issues. .
E: Are there any specific ethics and compliance initiatives that have worked well at Solae?
CF: There are several. Let me mention our “Ethics Month” which is a program in which we dedicate the entire month of May to ethics. We set up a number of activities for employees around the world to participate in so they better understand the company’s ethics and compliance program and policies. This offers employees numerous opportunities to ask questions, to discuss “real-life” ethical situations and to interact with invited experts and the company’s leadership. During ethics month we establish several activities centered on ethics and compliance such as a brown bag event and a global audio conference; we dedicate an entire issue of “Sound Advice”, our quarterly newsletter, to ethics. We try to keep these events fun but above all try to make them relevant to our employees. Another key initiative is our “Global Core Value Award” handed out quarterly by site and regional core value committees which receive regular nominations from employees recognizing their colleagues for advancing our core values. This year we will also recognize four employees with an Annual Global Core Value Awards to recognize out of the ordinary behavior that exemplifies one or more of our core values. It’s a good way to recognize employees who have a positive impact on the company and in the communities in which they work and live.
E: Do you receive feedback from employees on these events and, if so, how do you incorporate that into future efforts?
CF: We seek out feedback and have key contacts in our various country operations that give us feedback on the effectiveness of whatever communications or collateral we provide around our ethics and compliance activities. The main feedback we received after our first ethics month is that it was US-centric and that we needed a more global focus. This was a very legitimate concern which we took into consideration the following year, when we organized our 2nd annual ethics month. We made sure this would be a global event. For example, our keynote ethics presentation was a live video and audio feed available at all our sites. We also were very sensitive as to what time we have these events so that we can hit daylight, or near daylight, in most of the time zones in which we operate. Likewise, whenever creating communications or posters we became much more sensitive to the fact that they have to be translated and understood in different countries.
We also get very frank feedback through a global employee council, the GEC, composed of 30 employees representing every site and region in which we operate. These employees provide feedback from employees on the ground as to what employees want from our cultural transformation and compliance, safety and environmental stewardship programs. This is very valuable feedback and allows us to keep our finger on the pulse of our employees worldwide.. Members of the GEC were selected, initially, by people we knew would be outspoken in the region. These employees serve one year and after that make recommendations as to who should replace them on the committee. Employees on the GEC attend monthly conference calls to talk with one another and share ideas and concerns.
E: What keeps you up at night?
CF: Keeping up with regulatory changes is a concern all general counsels share. I am focused on regulatory activity in mainly three different areas. The first is food safety which is in constant flux worldwide, to keep up with the numerous challenges regarding the quality of the world’s food supplies. Understanding all regulations and complying with them is important for any food operator: mistakes are costly and a pristine reputation can be shattered in a moment’s inattention. For this reason we have a number of very substantial programs to promote food safety across the company. The second is compliance with numerous and varied national regulations of genetically modified organism (GMO) and the unavoidable presence of traces of GMO in our products. My last concern is on anti-bribery compliance and ensuring we leave no stones untouched in reaching out to employees and third parties we depend on. In addition, and above all these concerns and regulatory changes, is the constant worry about the unknown requirements; what am I missing, what don’t I know? A solution there is to network and speak to as many peers as possible to find out what else is out there.
E: What are you most hopeful about?
CF: I am very hopeful about Solae, our products, our employees and our work environment. We produce soy proteins and I believe that, no matter your perspective, soy has a very bright future. It’s a healthy food ingredient so the more soy you eat the better off you are. It’s a sustainable source of protein in that less land and water and energy are required in the production of 1 kg of soy protein than you would for any other kind of protein, whether that is meat protein or dairy protein. The thought that Solae’s products and employees make the world a better place lets me sleep.