An Interview with Richard Bistrong, CEO, Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLC

From going to prison after being convicted for violating the FCPA (the US foreign anti-bribery law) to founding Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLC, and educating multinationals on current issues and challenges with respect to compliance, ethics and anti-bribery, Richard Bistrong has come a long way. We had the opportunity to speak to Richard and gain his insights into how he completely turned his life around, how his relationship with the media changed,  and which channels he feels are most valuable for thought leaders and content creators today.

Q: Your journey is quite inspiring. From going to prison to becoming the CEO of Front-Line Bribery LLC, you’ve completely turned your life around and recently cited as Thompson Reuters Top 50 social influencers in Risk, Compliance and Regtech in 2018. How did you accomplish this incredible journey of what you have referred to as “shame to change”?

Richard: It happened slowly and organically. When I returned from prison, I started to deep dive into the anti-bribery and compliance world. There were no shortage practitioners in the field. There were (and are) legal, audit, forensic and advisory leaders, but no one was talking about what it actually looks like from the commercial perspective. In other words, the ‘what actually happens,’ from the front-line experience, where people are tasked with commercial success in what are often volatile, complex, and high-risk regions. When I came home in 2013, I did not have a business model or consultancy practice. My goal was to simply share my story and experience on-line through a blog, and to then re-share on social media.

While I started engaging on social media channels, I realized that blogging and writing about my experiences would be central to sharing my story. So, whenever I saw an enforcement issue in the news that had similarities to my own conduct, I would blog about it. As I started to deepen my understanding of ethics and compliance, I also noticed the robust discussion about research on behavioral psychology, which focuses upon decision making and what influences and drives conduct. I started reading some very interesting papers and books about the psychological forces come into play in tough corporate and external environments. In other words, I started to look at what was happening in other fields and how that might bring value to current compliance challenges.

In 2014, as I started to share my experiences on LinkedIn, Twitter,  and my on Blog, I was recruited to speak at anti-bribery and compliance conferences. Most of this happened in the U.S. as I did not have my passport back from the Court (I was on three years of Federal probation with certain travel restrictions). When I was asked to speak outside of the U.S., I would do so via a live satellite feed, providing insights, and sharing my experiences at international conferences from London to Shanghai. Again, at that time I had no business model or consultancy.  I was just enjoying the opportunity to write and speak about my experiences.

But I never assumed that anyone wanted to hear my story. I certainly realized that because of my background, that some might discard or dilute my perspective, and I always leave it up to the individual to consider if my viewpoints bring value to their challenges.  And then, starting around 2015, compliance leaders that were at those compliance and anti-bribery forums started asking me to share my story with their compliance, commercial and leadership in-house teams, so I started going to corporations to present.

And my passport, along with other civil rights (voting, jury duty, etc.) was returned in January 2017—making it a ten-year process through the US and UK criminal justice systems. Since then, I spend most of my time overseas, speaking to international law enforcement, non-government organizations, academia, and most often, corporate events, where I address compliance, commercial, and business leaders.

In summary, I think not having a business plan, or being in any rush, allowed my experience to grow in a way that continues to be based on an organic progression. As I look back at it now, I never would have thought this part of my career, based on what was a self-inflicted crucible, would be the most exciting chapter of my professional journey.

The other unexpected surprise along the way was being asked to guest blog. My greatest source of pride with respect to that experience was guest blogging on the FCPA Blog, www.fcpablog.com, which then resulted in my being asked by Dick Cassin, the Editor-In-Chief, to become a Contributing Editor.  That honor and experience dramatically increased my exposure to the anti-bribery and compliance community. It is still a heartfelt experience when people come up to me during one of my corporate engagements, on a global basis, and share how much they enjoy the FCPA Blog and my posts.


Q: Following your return, did your relationship with the media change? If so, how?

Richard: That is an interesting question.  Before my release from prison, the media reporting had two legs–criminal conduct and a failed government sting operation. The coverage was mostly bad and ugly. When I got out, I wasn’t focused on changing that narrative, as the history spoke for itself, but nor did I want to re-hash it, as the lessons of a failed sting don’t bring any value to today’s multinationals in terms of our current compliance and commercial challenges. So, my relationship with the media started changing based on what I was focusing on, the ‘what actually happens,’ in the field of international business.  When I am now contacted by media, it’s usually around current anti-bribery issues. Again, I wasn’t trying to force anything, things happened naturally. Over time, I ended up being quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, and have been on CNBC as a subject matter expert, among other media engagements.

Q: What are your company’s marketing initiatives for 2019?

Richard: One of the great pillars of my journey so far is an anti-bribery video which I co-produced by Mastercard. It’s a corporate anti-bribery training video about my experience, narrated by a former FBI agent. It has since been licensed by multinationals around the world, some of which have customized the video to meet their needs and challenges. Our 2019 initiative is to make Part II, and production is currently underway.


Q: What channels do you feel are the most valuable for marketers today?

Richard: Dory Clark wrote a series of books, including her first of three, “Reinventing You.” Reading her books in prison had a real impact on me. One of the issues she addresses pertains to being where your community is, and you won’t know that until you try! So, back in 2014, I set up social media channels across the board. The ones I found most valuable are LinkedIn, LinkedIn groups, and Twitter.  Once I experienced that, I started to engage as often as possible with those channels. I never imagined I would be Twitter verified! Being a part of such exciting and engaging communities is a wonderful part of this practice.  I hope your readers will join me!

On these channels, there are robust discussions on behaviors, nudge factors, and how companies have such a wonderful opportunity to tip people in the right direction of ethical decision making.  And there are always lively discussions about current issues in the field, including what does the world and landscape of the anti-bribery enforcement look like? Everyone is open and polite- it is a fun and engaging experience for the benefit of all.


Q: What are your opinions on media monitoring in relation to anti-bribery and compliance?

Richard: Social media monitoring is very important for someone traveling overseas who might not always have the luxury to engage with social media full time. Social media and news monitoring provide the user with daily digests, reports, and data, which are always helpful, especially when thinking globally. You can see current trends and topics through dashboards that include Word Clouds, for example. It’s just great being able to see, on a consolidated basis, what is being discussed and where. It is a snapshot of what is happening now. And I am excited to be working with Critical Mention–very interesting that I found out about them on Instagram!


Q: If you had the chance to prevent what happened and re-write your story, would you? 

Richard: Nothing was worth the consequences of losing my liberty and what it meant for my family and health, but cheating was a choice. My crucible was self-inflicted, but as I look in the rear-view mirror, perhaps, if I better prepared myself for my new role as an International Sales President in 1997, it might have worked out better. I figured out risk while I was in the middle of it, and I should have done a better job understanding those high-risk markets before I dove in.   And as that’s a continued challenge for today’s leaders, it’s still an issue I still address when addressing compliance, commercial and business teams!

Until next time!
Critical Mention
Richard Bistrong
Richard Bistrong spent much of his career as an international sales executive and was the VP of International Sales for a large, publicly traded manufacturer of police and military equipment in the UK. In 2007, as part of a cooperation agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice and subsequent immunity from prosecution in the UK, Richard assisted the U.S., UK, and other governments in their understanding of how FCPA, bribery and other export violations occurred and operated in international sales. In 2012, Richard was sentenced as part of his own plea agreement for violating the FCPA and served over fourteen months at a federal prison. He now consults, writes and speaks about current front-line anti-bribery and compliance issues. He’s been named by Thomson Reuters as one of the top 50 social influencers in risk and compliance, by Compliance Week as a Top Mind in the field of Governance, Risk and Compliance, and one of Ethisphere’s 100 Most Influential in Business Ethics. Richard is a Contributing Editor of the FCPA Blog and his chapter “The Anatomy of a Bribe” appears in the 2016 edition of the Trace International’s How to Pay a Bribe. You can reach him at RichardTbistrong@gmail.com  or via his website at www.richardbistrong.com and he often tweets @richardbistrong.
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