When it comes to understanding how compliance intersects with culture during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, few people are in a better position than Jessica Kelman. The senior ethics and compliance counsel joined Pure Storage in 2020. In March 2020. March 16, 2020, to be exact—the same day Governor Gavin Newsom issued a stay-at-home order in her home state of California.
At first, Kelman and her leadership team, like most people in America, thought they would be working from home for about two weeks. As the pandemic dragged on, however, it became increasingly obvious that Pure Storage’s nearly four thousand employees would be away from the office for a longer period of time.
The Silicon Valley company delivers a portfolio of advanced data solutions and services to help customers modernize their technology infrastructure, operations, and applications. Although its nimble and agile workforce seems in some ways made to thrive in a remote environment, Kelman knew she would have to pivot to monitor emerging legal issues related to tone, privacy, information security, ethics, and mental health.
As these issues continue to evolve, Kelman says lawyers working in compliance and ethics must keep careful watch for areas of risk and danger. “Legal departments are used to looking at history and precedent. We often look backward, but we have to be forward-thinking right now,” she says. At Pure Storage, that means working with HR, finance, marketing, business leaders, and others to increase transparency and set sound strategy.
A true multidisciplinary approach lays the groundwork for success at a company like Pure Storage, which does business in forty-seven countries. Careful communication and purposeful collaboration help Kelman understand how the pandemic is affecting each region and what her department needs to do in response. Although the pandemic has reduced her opportunities to gain industry insights through seminars, meet-ups, and lunch meetings, she is seizing every opportunity to solicit advice and import best practices from her peers and counterparts at other organizations.
Pure Storage (known simply as “Pure” by its clients and employees) started in 2009, launched cloud services in 2018, and topped $1 billion in annual revenue before ending its first decade in business. It has a Net Promoter score of 83.5, which places Pure in the top 1 percent of business-to-business companies. Internal programs like Pure Good leverage financial investments and volunteer employee support to make a positive impact.
These factors helped Pure Storage build a strong corporate culture, which Kelman is looking to preserve, strengthen, and evolve in the unpredictable era of COVID-19. That’s accomplished through company-wide surveys and analytic measures including a Culture of Compliance survey her own department led. The online tool asks employees whether they feel supported coming forward with concerns and if executives are setting the right tone as well as whether the company is living its values.
Identifying potential problems and areas of risk is especially important in a COVID environment, where isolated employees work with less direct oversight and often experience more stress. Kelman, who started her career in white-collar criminal defense, knows well how high-stress environments can contribute to bad decision-making and professional misconduct.
“It’s easier for people to get into legal trouble when they feel intense pressure and disconnected from others at the same time, so we want to support our employees and give them the tools they need to thrive in the midst of difficulty,” she says.
Her team created Pure Compliance Club, an annual week of creative trainings and events that go beyond reiterating rules and policies to provide guidance on broader topics like ethical decision-making, ethical product design, and other related issues. Kelman is also working to make sure executive leaders set the right tone. She is also partnering with HR to provide mental health services and other resources for managers and their employees.
These are the main issues Kelman is watching as Pure Storage prepares to welcome employees back to its offices in Mountain View, California, and around the world. Running the organization’s global compliance program requires her to prioritize workflows and stay in communication with colleagues in key markets and various jurisdictions. She starts each morning talking with teammates in Europe, then moves on to her counterparts in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region in the afternoon and early evening. She’s also careful to build the right relationships with leaders throughout the organization.
“I can’t implement strong programs unless I have strong relationships,” she says. “To do a correct risk assessment, you have to really understand each business unit because you have to know what’s happening, what challenges they face, and where they want to go.”
In recent months , Pure Storage’s leadership team has been vocal about both the company’s success and its ambitions. In July 2021, it expanded its subscription services, first launched in 2018. The following month, Pure announced its latest financial results. Revenue growth exceeded 23 percent; it was the best quarter in company history. Pure is poised to continue pushing innovation forward, and Kelman’s team is ready to help the business deliver comprehensive solutions to its customers.
Vinson & Elkins:
“Jessica is a brilliant lawyer, with terrific judgment and an ability to read people and situations. She has great instincts and an ability to navigate difficult situations with ease. It is an honor to have her trust and confidence.”
–Matt Jacobs, Partner