One of the most ubiquitous phrases in compliance and indeed all of corporate governance is “tone at the top.” Yet by the very nature of such ubiquitousness, means there is both wide circulation and wide understanding of the term. Moreover, even if a term is overused, it does not mean that the term itself is wrong. It may simply mean there is no other phrase which so well encapsulates a concept.
Valeant is just the latest in a string of companies that found when you bend the rules, lie and cheat your way to enormous profits; when it falls, it falls hard. Beginning last fall when an accounting scandal blew forth from a pharmacy chain controlled by Valeant (off the books entities-in Houston that sounds eerily familiar) up through this spring, the company’s value dropped from $90bn to $10bn. Its (now) former CEO Michael Pearson was credited from the company’s spectacular growth until it all came crashing down.
As noted in a recent Financial Times article the company just weeks ago “blamed the ‘tone at the top’ for an accounting scandal that prompted a collapse in its share price.” This blame was leveled immediately before Pearson was ousted by the Board of Directors in March of this year. Of course the upcoming financial restatements did not help Pearson’s cause with the board or company much either.
Yet even with this termination and sanction, the board still rewarded Pearson with a severance package at just over $10 million for his leadership. Even more amazing the company is keeping him on as a Consultant through 2017 at a cost of roughly $850,000 per year. Not bad work if you can get it. The article did note that “Pearson has also agreed to cooperate with the numerous federal and state investigations into the firm’s business practices.” While companies will often keep employees who might be under investigation on the payroll to help ensure their cooperation in any investigation, with the advent of the Yates Memo and the new Justice Department focus on individual liability, I somehow doubt there will be much cooperation delivered out by Pearson.
Even if Pearson does cooperate, why would a company keep as a consultant, someone it has criticized for his ‘tone at the top’?