How a Compliance Officer Fights Cartels and Corruption
Company | Corporate culture | With nearly 160,000 employees, represented on all continents, it is not always easy to keep track at thyssenkrupp. But when it comes to allegations of corruption and antitrust law, Dr. Sebastian Lochen takes a very close look. As Chief Compliance Officer, he ensures that thyssenkrupp stays clean. He told us in an interview what role culture plays in this and how he assesses thyssenkrupp's history.
Dr. Lochel, would you describe yourself as someone who likes to play by the rules?
I don’t think that “rules” is the right category. It’s all about attitude and the conviction that you want to behave correctly. But of course, rules are part of it at the end. And you have to stick to them, whether in road traffic or in business.
Explained for non-specialists: What exactly are you doing here?
In the area of compliance, we deal with antitrust law and anti-corruption, as well as money laundering prevention and data protection. When we look at corruption, we try to protect our employees from becoming victims of corruption. But we also try to protect our company from employees behaving wrongly, intentionally or unintentionally. This requires the clear advice from our Compliance Department. We actively provide information and are also available for advice. We have about 15,000 consulting activities per year. This is also reflected in the trust we have built up as a Compliance department.
Compliance is a must. We are a responsible corporate citizen.
– from the mission statement of thyssenkrupp
What inspires you about your profession, why did you choose it?
Working in a company as Chief Compliance Officer is a lot of fun because you come into contact with very different departments, people and regions. I try to keep an eye on all risks in order to best protect the company in the end – because that’s what our daily work is all about: protecting the company. Cultural issues play a major role for us and we have to address a wide variety of business models and processes. This is the big difference to the practical work, for example as an external lawyer, who always sees only a small part of our multifaceted work. The majority of the Compliance department consists of lawyers and everyone appreciates the particularly practical and varied part of our work. The cross-disciplinary composition of the team also helps us in this – I really appreciate that, we learn a lot from each other.
What challenges does thyssenkrupp in particular face as a globally active company?
We have more than 160,000 employees and it is regrettable that there are people who cross borders or break rules. Unfortunately, the result is unavoidable. We are, therefore, taking a very preventive approach, trying to create a system that prevents violations. The fact that we are powerless against individual criminals in the end is a fact that we have to come to terms with. But by actively integrating compliance into business processes throughout the Group, we try to prevent violations as far as possible. This challenge is a complex one. Of course, this is also due to the countries in which we are active. In many countries, our understanding of compliance culture is not as distinct as it is here. We also had our cases at thyssenkrupp in the past as insider relationships were quite normal then. We had to do a lot of development work there.
Compliance is a question of mindset.
– from the compliance strategy of thyssenkrupp.
In such a large corporation, not every misconduct can be prevented. How do you deal with this?
I don’t find that frustrating and that’s how we deal with reality. Of course, we also take a close look and prevent misconduct as soon as we discover it. We have to be consistent and that is what we are. Otherwise, it’s a challenge we face every day. We also do persuasion work on a cultural level. At the end of the day, this carries us further than simply setting up rules.
What happens internally when accusations of corruption become loud?
We have our own investigation department, which works very closely with the internal audit department. We investigate internally with all the means at our disposal: We look at documents, talk to employees, draw conclusions from them, and then come to a conclusion. We also have a whistleblowing system that allows employees to contact us anonymously online and by phone. Each year, we receive a three-digit number of reports via the whistleblowing system. If we find any violations, we stop them immediately. And we take action when necessary. In extreme cases, this can go all the way to termination.
What do you do to prevent problems in the company in the long term?
I think this is an ongoing process. We have to talk to our employees again and again. Constant dripping wears the stone. Compliance must not be forgotten, this is not a topic that is triggered in a major case and then hopefully fades away again. We have to deal with this issue consistently.
Reliability, honesty, credibility, and integrity are part of our DNA.
– from the compliance strategy of thyssenkrupp.
What role does culture play in compliance issues?
A very important role. The largest. Today, it is clear to everyone that they are not allowed to bribe. There is no country where corruption is legal. The question is: How do I position myself for this? In Asia, for example, there is still a very pronounced gift culture. In the Arab world, for example, you need a sponsor to support you in many activities. These are business peculiarities that you have to deal with. That’s the exciting thing. Nevertheless, we are trying to establish a uniform compliance culture while taking local peculiarities into account. One thing is clear: compliance is a question of mindset. Gifts, for example, are not a means of winning business.
How do you assess thyssenkrupp’s history of compliance and corruption issues?
Every violation is one too many. They are expensive and damage the reputation of our company. And they’re not right either. In my professional life, that’s the same as in my private life. I want to be able to look in the mirror in the morning without feeling ashamed. That is why we have a very serious task. But it’s also a lot of fun. As a compliance department, we have enormous backing from the Management Board. And many employees are not only highly-trained, but also have a very clear attitude. We notice in many projects and in the behavior of our employees that we are on the right track. They turn to us and are as rightly as truly outraged when something goes wrong or they hear about allegations of corruption. We took them with us on our journey. That is very pleasing and positive – and, of course, also a confirmation for us.
About Dr. Sebastian Lochen
Dr. Sebastian Lochen grew up in Duisburg and knows the thyssenkrupp environment from his earliest childhood. The 42-year-old lawyer studied in Marburg and Canterbury, England. During his legal clerkship in Düsseldorf, he returned to thyssenkrupp. After working for a commercial law firm, he returned to the company in 2011 – this time in the Compliance department. He has been Chief Compliance Officer since October 1, 2018.