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Best friends forever: Nurturing the compliance/board relationship

Joan Ruff ( is the Chair of the Board of Directors of AARP in Washington, DC. Ellen M. Hunt ( is the Senior Vice President – Audit, Ethics & Compliance Officer for AARP in Washington, DC.

Your best friend forever or “BFF” is that person you can have the difficult conversations with, even when it might be something that that person might not want to hear. A BFF always makes time to listen and provides sage advice and counsel. You respect your BFF for their wisdom, experience, and knowledge. During large and very public scandals, consumers, shareholders, employees, and the public at large have rejected the Sergeant Schultz defense (from TV’s Hogan’s Heroes): “I see nothing! I hear nothing! I know nothing!” from the boards, so it would seem that a BFF relationship between the board and the chief ethics and compliance officer (CECO) is a match made in heaven. However, according to a recent study by LRN,[1] most CECOs feel that more can be done to strengthen that relationship, particularly in setting ethical standards for senior management, developing a deeper understanding of ethics and compliance initiatives, being a partner for meaningful metrics, as well as establishing confidential and direct lines of communication between the board and the CECO. So how can the CECO nurture the compliance/board relationship?

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