Tuesday, May 20, 2008

High Performance with High Integrity

A corporate president for whom I once worked called me into his office when I was promoted to General Counsel and told me that he expected me not only to be the chief legal officer, but to be the conscience of the organization; to not only come to him when I thought a potential action was illegal, but when I thought an action was wrong. Ben Heineman makes precisely this point about in-house counsel in a new book to be published next month.
Ben Heineman, for those of you who don’t know him, was the General Counsel and later the Senior Vice President for Law and Public Policy at General Electric during the Jack Welch days. Ben, who I had the pleasure of retaining on behalf of my client when he was in private practice, retired from GE with his sterling reputation as one of the finest lawyers (in house or private practitioner) in the country intact. That in itself seems to be too much of a rarity these days, but to leave a corporation with a reputation as one of the most ethical practitioners in country, particularly when working for a CEO well known as one of the most aggressive in the country, is a feat indeed.
Ben’s book will be of keen interest to any in-house counsel. The title of Ben’s new book, High Performance with High Integrity, suggests that CEO’s and other high corporate officials would also do well to read this volume. The book, which will be published by Harvard Business Press, grew out of an April 2007 article that Ben wrote for the Harvard Business Review. According to a review of the book to be published in the June ACC Docket, Ben’s “main precept is that proper corporate governance is fundamentally the job of the CEO and senior managers, not the Board of Directors.” That strikes me, as one who practiced in-house for many years, as a reasonable belief. We know from our experience that even the most diligent Board of Directors can only hope to delve in-depth into a small number of the issues that corporate officers deal with on a daily basis.
And Heineman believes that pay should not only be linked to performance but to demonstrated integrity, as well. It will be interesting to see if Heineman suggests how corporations monitor and document integrity if it is be tied to pay. That strikes me as perhaps a difficult task.

-Steve Bokat
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