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Harry Cassin
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New Book: The Accidental Compliance Professional

Roy Snell is perhaps the best known compliance professional in the world. In 1995, he “accidentally” became a compliance officer — among the first in the American health care industry.

Soon after that, he became a co-founder and CEO of the Health Care Compliance Association and the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics, now the biggest membership groups for compliance professionals.

Last year Roy stepped down from his CEO role at the HCCA and the SCCE. Although he’s still serving as a strategic advisor to both groups, he’s also using his time to write.

The first of what’s likely to be many books from Roy is The Accidental Compliance Professional. It’s a wonderful story about the origins of the compliance industry and Roy’s role in it. And it’s a collection of wisdom, career advice, and how-to tips Roy has gleaned from his 23-year compliance career.

This isn’t a dry tome or academic treatise. It’s Roy Snell having a conversation with us in his warm and engaging style.

As Haydee Olinger, former CCO at McDonald’s Corporation, said: “Roy Snell has hit the nail on the head. His anecdotes and wisdom will inspire you to improve yourself and your organization.”

I recently asked Roy about The Accidental Compliance Professional.


You write about the “Compliance Big Bang” that started everything for the profession. Did you ever imagine back in the 1990s how critical compliance professionals would become?

My wife tells people that I told her in the late 90’s, “I don’t know how big this is going to be or if it will work at all.” I don’t remember it that way. My recollection is that I thought it was going to be huge. In fact, I remember thinking that I saw this same thing happen in the personal computer industry in the early 80’s. I was involved in that industry and walked away from it before it exploded even though I thought it would be big. It was a mistake. I swore that if I ever get ahead of something big again, I will not walk away. So the answer to your question depends on who you want to believe. Maybe both things happened. 

In the book, you talk about the need for compliance officers to be “delightfully honest.” Does too much honesty create conflicts in the “get-along” culture of most big companies?

Oh my sir. This is the mother of all…. “good questions.” We are in the process of trying to decide what I should write about in my second book. I wrote a “test post” yesterday that discussed this very thing. It’s a very long story but this question is at the eye of the storm for me. It’s all about having integrity and not going out in ball of flames fighting everyone along the way. It’s kind of what The Accidental Compliance Professional is all about. How to be effective and not flame out. The great compliance professionals have the interpersonal skills to move mountains and keep the peace.  

You point out that compliance officers need crisis management skills, among other things. What’s the most important crisis management skill you’ve seen?

STAYING CALM!!!!!!! I once wrote a post that the first thing a compliance professional should do when a big problem is discovered is to get everyone involved to “STOP.” I told people to get everyone to stop calling people, having emergency meetings, writing emails, doing press releases, etc. until they until they have all the facts. Ironically we gripe about people who won’t take action when a problem is found. However, there are two ways to mess this up… taking action before you have all the facts and not taking action after you have all the facts. The great ones work on both of these issues.

There’s never been a book about compliance more readable than The Accidental Compliance Professional. Is clear writing — as opposed to the “corporate speak” you warn about — part of the compliance professional’s job?

I consider that a great compliment. Thank you. This is an awful problem. Between the human resources department, the communications department, press releases and a leadership team that is under siege by the press, public, prosecutors and politicians…. everyone is being careful. Let me define careful… hire a bunch of people who can write in such a way that that sounds brilliant and says nothing. How can we expect people in the trenches to help us prevent, find and fix problems if all you do is talk in platitudes? Our profession is under siege by platitudenilsts. By the way, spelling is not my thing… but what is really hard is spelling words that don’t exist.

Regulators and enforcement agencies expect so much now from compliance officers. Is compliance still a great career choice with long-term prospects for success?

I think so. I mean it’s hard to imagine a scenario where this doesn’t continue to grow. The reason this is all so big is because society has had it with wrong doing. Not only will society probably not change their mind any time soon, this has spread across the world. Most regulators see compliance professionals in a very positive light. They have found a couple “compliance officers in name only” that they were not impressed by but for the most part the regulators respect the compliance profession. There may be pockets of compliance professionals that the enforcement community gets frustrated with, like in financial services where people with the compliance officer title are submitting reports and making attestations to the government… occasionally incorrectly. But compliance professionals that run a 7 element compliance and ethics program for all risk areas to help prevent, find and fix ethical and regulatory problems are not often criticized.

Thank you for talking with us today.


 The Accidental Compliance Professional is available here.


Harry Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog.

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