Setting the Example

In conversation with Richard Buchband

With more than twenty-five years of legal experience in a variety of companies and industries, one principle remains consistent for Richard Buchband: “It’s imperative to be thinking several steps ahead,” he says. “As a GC, you have to play the long game, while remembering the core values that drive your company forward.”

For Buchband and his team, the changing labor market and new business models mean they must remain nimble and innovative to ensure ManpowerGroup can continue to provide workforce solutions to its roughly 400,000 clients. And that’s in addition to creating meaningful work opportunities to more than three million candidates. Buchband doesn’t take for granted the important role his team plays in maintaining and driving ManpowerGroup’s mission that has defined the Milwaukee-based company for roughly seventy years.

As the senior vice president, general counsel, and secretary for ManpowerGroup, Buchband is more than a legal voice for the global workforce solutions provider. He is a bridge that links departments, an advisor to the board, a voice for sound ethics, and a builder of the company’s corporate governance framework. In a conversation with Modern Counsel, Buchband shares the importance of corporate governance, how he teaches others to lead with integrity, and why ManpowerGroup was named one of the World’s Most Ethical companies for seven straight years.

Corporate governance is a key skill set for you. Can you describe how you think about governance principles at ManpowerGroup?

We have a very strong commitment to corporate governance and a profile that backs this up. At the core are principles of transparency and communication. We aspire to be forthright and proactive in our governance, and it’s been our practice to do the right thing without waiting for a prompt from shareholder activists or demands from our holders. As the lead corporate governance person working with the board of directors, I’m focused on ensuring our governance approach and shareholder engagement keep us in front of the curve.

Starting two years ago, we began reaching out to our largest shareholders and engaging with them on corporate governance and executive compensation. I’ve conducted numerous meetings, and they’re well received. We feel it’s important to offer our shareholders an in-person conversation about our governance policies and our executive compensation philosophy. These are critical hotspots for institutional shareholders, and we expect to continue these meetings.

Another example is we prepare a “quarterly securities briefing” for the board and leadership. It’s a series of strategic summaries designed to keep them apprised of developing trends in securities law, regulation, and other public company issues.

DID YOU KNOW?

From 1997 to 2001, Richard Buchband was general counsel for one of the pioneers in Internet service providers—Juno Online Services.

In terms of doing the right thing, I understand you were part of the rebuild for the ethics and compliance program at the company?

First and foremost, we are a people company. We have 29,000 employees across the globe at ManpowerGroup. It’s imperative that our people—whether through our broad-based training or via their direct managers—understand the company’s perspective on integrity and how that translates to day-to-day behaviors.

In the best organizations, ethics and compliance programs are not a “one and done,” and this was clearly the case at ManpowerGroup when I arrived four years ago. I have a forward-looking team, and we completely re-engineered our code of business conduct, anti-corruption policy, and policy on gifts, entertainment, and sponsorship.

I also initiated in-person training of our top and our middle management, typically when I visit a country. It’s a great way to meet people throughout the company, and these turn into lively discussions about the right choices and right behaviors. It’s really a two-way conversation, and we’ve done this with groups in London, Paris, Moscow, Brussels, Tokyo, Singapore, and Mexico City, among others. The back and forth is critical. We’re cascading a message down so that our key leadership in different geographic operations understands exactly how our policies work and what’s expected of them.

Because the legal team consists of both domestic and internationally based lawyers, do the ethics change then when looking at something internationally, or is it universal?

It’s a universal set of standards. This creates some interesting challenges. Being a global company, we’re very sensitive to cultural differences worldwide. You need to be. Business culture is different in different places around the world. In our view, that does not translate into a “fluid” set of country-by-country ethical norms and conduct. Rather, we adhere to a global set of best practices.

Last year, I was meeting with our legal team in Russia. Some of our locally based competitors clearly do not subscribe to international standards of transparency and ethics. You know what my team said? “There are some practices in the local market that we are just not interested in pursuing.” The local team was rightly proud of that posture. They were not interested in exploring the boundaries of the gray zone. That’s a consistent sentiment across the organization.

ManpowerGroup has now been named one of the world’s most ethical companies by Ethisphere for the seventh consecutive year. What does that mean for you and the company?

We’re extremely proud of this recognition, alongside our place in Fortune’s Most Admired Companies. Very few companies can claim both; we’re the only one in our industry. It’s part of our DNA to do the right thing.

As nice as it is to be recognized, it really does speak to the company’s culture of doing well by doing good. We pride ourselves on being good corporate citizens, managing our company in an enlightened way for the long-term benefit of our shareholders, the people we serve, and in the communities in which we operate across eighty countries.

So is it because of leadership that the company is able to accomplish this, or is it due to the culture itself?

Well, it’s both. The culture precedes me. We still have the same purpose as we did the day we began nearly seventy years ago. That meaningful, sustainable employment has the power to change the world. We all stand on the shoulders of the people who came before us, and my team plays an active part. We consider it part of our mission to sustain that culture, to improve, and expand where appropriate. Some of it is done at the top with generations of leadership at this company acting by example.

Beyond the business, our leadership team is equally influential in our communities. They are engaged in a range of commitments outside the office. Our CEO is the vice chairman of Junior Achievement (JA ) Worldwide and current board member of JA USA. We’re involved locally with many organizations like Boys & Girls Club and school outreach programs here in Milwaukee, elsewhere in the US, and in many other countries. None of this is mandatory. We do this because it’s who we are.

Can you give me a personal example of this?

A few years ago, the New York Stock Exchange launched the Listed Company Advisory Board, with executives from leading companies advising the NYSE on capital markets and public company matters. I’m one of a small number of GCs on the board. I was asked to be part of the inaugural class, a nice fit for my interest in public company governance. Similarly, I’m quite involved with the National Association of Corporate Directors. I’m part of their general counsel steering committee and I’ve presented at numerous NACD events, including on the role of GCs. Here in Milwaukee, we have a world-class art museum. I’m on the board of trustees for the Milwaukee Art Museum, where I’m also now head of the audit committee. These are the types of activities that are typical for leadership at this company. We have an opportunity to influence what’s going on within our individual areas of expertise and within the communities in which our employees live and work.
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Kirkland & Ellis LLP:

“At Kirkland, we know excellence when we see it.  Richard, warmest congratulations from your friends at Kirkland on this well-deserved recognition.  Your outstanding leadership is an inspiration!”

—Claudia Ray, Partner