Ling-Ling Nie joins her fellow colleagues outside Panasonic, bike helmet in hand and a route in mind through scenic Peachtree City, Georgia. It’s the end of another Wednesday workday, when she and her team check their gear in preparation for their traditional group ride, an activity Nie and a coworker started a few years ago.
On any given Wednesday, there are four bicycles Nie can choose from in her collection. For the team rides, it’s likely that she has her mountain bike—the most favored of her four. In the reserves is her road bike, as well as her hybrid—a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike—and her new trail mountain bike, which Nie got last year for the purpose of more aggressive riding.
“I got that because I’m now starting to explore downhill riding,” Nie explains. “I’ll be going to West Virginia in July for a women’s weekend camp, where a bunch of us get together and learn how to throw ourselves down mountains without killing ourselves.”
In addition to working at Panasonic North America, Ling-Ling Nie serves as a division president for Women Connect, an organization within Panasonic that encourages women to pursue leadership opportunities while providing them with further education and training opportunities.
In the technology industry, Nie says, women are typically not well-represented, especially in senior leadership roles. “I see a lot of talented women in the workforce who just maybe haven’t had the right mentor or the right opportunity to pursue upper-management roles and, for whatever reason, have never really had the confidence or belief in themselves that they’re capable of doing that. So that’s something that Women Connect is trying to address,” Nie says.
Nie notes that Women Connect at Panasonic is not exclusive, either. Both men and women are invited to participate in every activity because it takes the efforts of everyone to achieve a mission of elevating women into leadership roles. “We invite everyone so that everyone can be a part of recognizing that women have just as much value as men when it comes to leadership,” Nie says.
Nie is joking, of course, but behind the laughter is a hint of truth, in that it’s hard to find something she fears, let alone something she won’t try. Nie just started exploring road and mountain biking a few years ago as a way to manage stress and enjoy the outdoors. And when she’s not pedaling around Peachtree City, she may be on her Suzuki Boulevard motorcycle instead. Or, if she’s staying in, it may be to learn a new song on her banjo. “I try to pick up as many things as possible,” she says. “With the banjo, I literally just woke up one morning and I thought, ‘I think I want to play the banjo.’ So, I went down to the music store, and I signed up for classes with a teacher.” Looking ahead, she even hopes to form a group and perform live music in front of others.
But it wasn’t always this way. If you ask Nie how she came into her role as chief compliance officer and assistant general counsel for Panasonic North America, she would tell you that it relates to her general philosophy: work hard. And work hard she does. Early in her career as a civil litigation associate and later as an attorney and senior adviser for the US Department of the Treasury, Nie became intensely focused on the day-to-day requirements of her job. She honed her technical skills as a lawyer and buried herself in work at the office.
“Although that type of work ethic and that type of discipline made others view me as a high performer, which was great,” Nie says, “I started to feel very unfulfilled because I lost my identity somewhere along the way and basically didn’t know how to describe myself without referring to my job. I made a very deliberate change in my life to learn more about myself and what I liked by encouraging myself to try new experiences—try everything, do everything I had previously been scared of, or didn’t feel like I had time for. I feel like that approach of throwing caution to the wind has not only changed the quality of my life for the better, but it has also enhanced my ability to do my job better because now I do take risks. I try new things constantly. I think more creatively. I think all those things ultimately help me be a true business partner who can appreciate the company’s goals and work to achieve growth rather than putting up barriers.”
Running the compliance program for Panasonic has its challenges. Beyond the day-to-day obstacles, there are also cultural differences to navigate as the company does business in virtually every region of the world and develops integrated solutions across all industries. This makes it crucial that Nie anticipates the risks posed by the evolving scope of Panasonic’s products and services. Another obstacle is making compliance relatable for all Panasonic employees. In order to be a true business partner, as Nie describes, she needs to ensure that all the gears are in working order, just as she does every Wednesday before her after-work bike ride.
In fact, the way Nie speaks of biking can be translated into a metaphor for compliance itself: “You have to handle your bike. You have to know how to use the gears on your bike and know your body positioning. Otherwise, you’re going to crash,” she explains.
The same can be said about educating others in compliance at Panasonic. As a standalone role, the chief compliance officer is a relatively new concept, Nie says. But, similar to understanding how to get to a destination on the open road, the first key for any chief compliance officer is knowing their company’s business model and where it’s heading. The second piece is understanding how the company communicates internally at the executive level and to its general workforce. Also, because Panasonic is a global company, Nie has to stay on top of all the regulatory and enforcement priorities happening around the world. She also has to be viewed as a leader who can be relied upon to navigate the company through a compliance crisis.
“I made a very deliberate change in my life to learn more about myself and what I liked by encouraging myself to try new experiences—try everything, do everything I had previously been scared of, or didn’t feel like I had time for.”
“The chief compliance officer role is not just a figurehead role or a title that you tack on to an existing function,” Nie says. “It’s not a hat that you can wear and then take off when other priorities come up. To do this job well, and properly, it requires that you devote 100 percent of your attention to it.”
“One of my ongoing initiatives is cultivating a compliance culture so strong that it becomes embedded into the business,” she continues. “That’s an ongoing task that I work on constantly. It’s something I get excited about, because it gives me the opportunity to build trusting relationships with employees at all levels in the company so that my input is included in their business goals and objectives.”
Being able to connect with and learn about others is one of the most underrated qualities one can have as chief compliance officer, and it’s something Nie prioritizes. “The desire to understand how life experiences can shape people’s perspectives is what helps me most in my role,” she says.
Nie credits Damien Atkins, general counsel of Panasonic North America, with teaching her how to focus on people. “I’m very lucky to work for someone who truly cares about his employees,” Nie says of Atkins. “His management style, his vision, and leadership ability have been inspiring and have significantly influenced the way I do my job in a very profound and transformative way. Working for someone who openly shows that he has confidence in your judgment and in your skills is empowering, and I try to be that type of leader to my team as well.”
Did you know?
Up until the age of sixteen, Ling-Ling Nie was a competitive figure skater. She is also an avid animal and dinosaur enthusiast.
It’s also one of the reasons why Nie made a commitment to try new hobbies, travel more, and venture away from a singularly focused life. In fact, her extracurricular activities have unwittingly contributed to her success at Panasonic, even when they go awry. In the summer of 2015, for instance, Nie broke her collarbone in a cycling accident, which required a titanium plate with six screws to reconstruct her right shoulder. Afterward, she developed a frozen shoulder and had to attend physical therapy for about four months. The only bright side, she says, is that it gave her time to think about everything, including compliance. She began to see how putting her shoulder back together with a few screws could be compared to a company’s efforts to fix lingering compliance issues: adjustments can be made in business operations, and the right tools can be put in place for everyone to understand why compliance is essential.
“Ultimately, each employee is accountable for their decisions, and I want to help them make the right ones for the company,” Nie says. “No one can entirely control what another person chooses to do, but I do whatever I can to make compliance as interesting and relatable as possible so that our employees can understand how this fits into their job function and make the choice to do business the right way.”
Nie wasn’t out of commission for long after her injury. Shortly after she was medically cleared, she was back on the bike, and now she’s heading downhill on a new set of wheels, fully prepared to manage the risks of this hobby and others that she may take on in the future. “I’m just not someone to give in,” she says.
“We commend Chief Compliance Officer & Assistant General Counsel Ling-Ling Nie for her leadership at Panasonic. It is a pleasure to work with talented in-house counsel like Ling-Ling, who promotes a strong culture of compliance and ethics.”
—Christopher J. Kimball, Special Counsel
“Ling-Ling is an outstanding attorney with the foresight to anticipate compliance challenges and the judgment to collaborate with business professionals to reduce risk. She is passionate about promoting an enduring culture of compliance.”
—Ronald Machen, Partner