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Mike Scher: The Orlando tragedy and the compliance profession

In my family we knew two of the young people murdered at the Pulse Club in Orlando in the worst mass shooting in American history, with 49 killed and 53 wounded.

If you live in Florida, you might have kids at school in Orlando; lots of people here know the Pulse as a favorite area club, especially for LGBT kids to hang out in a safe spot for company and fun. Latino night at the Pulse brought together American diversity: straight and gay kids, and Florida’s wonderful mix of ethnic communities.

The kids at Pulse are like my kids and not just because they are mixed gay and straight and multi-ethnic. I think about their common dreams: good times, making something of your life, love and marriage, kids and family. I was like that.

Firing an assault weapon, the carnage built up over three hours as kids texted pleas for help and good byes. Suddenly it is two decades ago on 9-11. I’m hearing the last cell phone calls from the Twin Towers and the planes.

The vigil in Florida’s state capital is one of many around the world. It’s in an old church. LGBT folks and families surround me. Police are here but I still feel threatened, checking the exits just in case. Is this the way LGBT kids feel; why they go to Pulse to feel normal, have fun, not be another target after so many?  It’s crazy. They shouldn’t have to live this way. Slaves from near-by plantations made the bricks and built this church long ago. America can do better.

Experts from many disciplines, politicians and ordinary citizens around the world, are getting the facts and thinking about what it means.

Why did the killer pick this club, on Latino night, to strike? FBI and police professionals will do that work. A brave off-duty officer made first contact and a SWAT team freeing many hostages ended it. You have to admire their professionalism.

At the church vigil, we hear the names of the 49 kids “who are not going home after a night at Pulse.” My wife says it’s like after the World Trade Center 9-11 tragedy; there are too many names. “The bright eyed daughter, the quick son … So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.”  After the 9-11 tragedy U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins made a poem of names, the work of his profession, to help us understand, to find room in our hearts for grief and moving forward. Together.

I have to believe my compliance work is relevant to this tragedy. I have to believe the mission of compliance can help. Things must change and compliance officers can help.

If you stay in this transformative work in progress called Compliance 2.0, you have a sense of mission that makes it worth it. After 9-11, the DOJ’s new compliance expert, Hui Chen, takes time off from her career to assess what is important. She goes to divinity school, decides to change fields and takes up compliance for companies.

Later, Chen returns to the DOJ to radically upgrade compliance standards, backed up by the full resources of the DOJ.  It sounds like mission-driven strength. I see it in many veteran COs like Donna Boehme, who led the field for a decade against the status quo and into Compliance 2.0.

Under Compliance 2.0, COs are subject matter experts for the compliance program, including sustaining an ethical business culture, and the new frontier using Board-approved Codes of Conduct to fight back against “lawful but awful” company conduct, (discussed in prior posts here and here.

The world is different in 2016: Business is forevermore intertwined with the welfare of the community and society.

The powers of companies can be used for ill (bribery) or for good. CEOs have led reluctant communities to put segregation behind them; they have banded together after the murder of nine congregants at prayer in a South Carolina church to ban old symbols of slavery and lynching; many companies cancelled business investments in North Carolina rather than appear to ignore or countenance discrimination against LGBT youth. Last year Walmart, the largest seller of guns and ammunition, stopped selling assault rifles like the one Pulse club killer used. These companies took action for moral and business reasons where none was legally required.

Compliance officers can address that moral gap of “lawful but awful” conduct — the gap between illegal and legal conduct where dangerous trouble grows. It’s not illegal today, though certainly morally questionable, to sell assault weapons to suspicious characters or to do business with communities that apparently support discrimination or the persecution of LGBT youth.

COs know and love their companies. They are empowered under Compliance 2.0 to debate with management and the Board the hard questions, starting with: It’s legally permitted but is it who we are?


Michael Scher is a senior editor of the FCPA Blog. He has over three decades of experience as a senior compliance officer and attorney for international transactions. He’ll be a speaker at the FCPA Blog NYC Conference 2016.

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  1. Mike, beautifully written. I admire your work.


  2. This is an excellent and thought provoking post that struck a real chord with me. As I think about it a little more, I would like to suggest, putting companies aside for a second, that the concluding question could as easily, and should frequently, be asked by individuals of themselves and then applied to every aspect of their personal and professional lives: 'This is not illegal but is it who I am?"

  3. Good job on your post. Well-written, timely and important.

    Just as we need to adopt a "Culture of Compliance" for our companies, we need to ensure that our own culture and that of our families includes acceptance of all people, but with a healthy disdain for terrorism in all forms (domestic, international, racial, ethnic or religious).

  4. Thank you to the readers for the encouraging comments and analysis.
    This is a rough time. Having a dialog about it really helps. I also hope that readers seeing your comments will be stimulated to comment on the posts that they read on the great FCPA Blog. A post is just a starting point for an extended discussion.

  5. Congrats for your iniciative Mr. Michael.
    It's another important reason to reflect about our mission, as humans and professionals, as well.

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