Interviewed by Aurélie Doré
For this month’s interview, we have had the pleasure to meet WIL Member Katie Vickery, Regulatory and Compliance Partner at Osborne Clarke. We discussed the survey she supervised on how the way businesses assess risk and approach compliance has changed since Covid-19, but also what she considers her greatest strength, leadership style, as well as her own experience of combining a career with a family life.
Can you describe your current role as a Partner specialized in regulatory compliance and risk at Osborne Clarke?
I am a regulatory litigator by background so I started my career doing purely contentious work, where I would defend businesses being prosecuted or investigated by regulatory authorities. As I became more experienced, having a deep understanding of what happens to companies when compliance systems fail has allowed me to give very rounded and risk-based advice on what good compliance systems look like.
Compliance covers a broad range of things, from building safety to marketing content. I work with international companies who want to implement an effective compliance system across their operations. Whether you work in France, Spain, India or China, more and more companies operate from the same standard, even if laws and culture are different. I help make sure the business is protected, and the system they implement works within the various teams and businesses - I find it creative despite what one might think about compliance!
Good compliance must be led from the top, be very engaging and actively adopted by the workforce to be effective.
Compliance sometimes gets bad press,
but I really believe it is fundamental
to run a successful and profitable business.
You were the lead on-site lawyer in the aftermath of the Buncefield fire and explosion. What leadership skills were necessary for the successful conduct of this crisis situation?
The Buncefield fuel depot fire in December 2005 was the UK's biggest peacetime explosion. I was quite young in my career at that point, but I was asked to go on-site for 8 months. My job was to protect my client’s position, but also to work with the regulator to secure evidence.
It is probably my most extreme example of being a leader in a crisis, but that has also been a big aspect of my job for several other clients. It has led me to be the calming influence, the one with the clear head and the right direction in mind. Dealing with a crisis requires a good degree of confidence in yourself and being able to take control of a situation when everybody else is very emotional. You have to be very organized, flexible, versatile, and agile.
You also need to have excellent communication skills, as well as the ability to build relationships very quickly, and create that instant connection with somebody, whether that is your client or the regulator you are dealing with.
Do you think being a woman had an impact on the way you handled the crisis?
Being a woman in this kind of crisis was helpful. Thankfully, nobody died in the Buncefield fire, but understandably there was a huge amount of emotion. I think people are more inclined to open up to a woman, share information and tell you how they feel, which is crucial because it’s very hard to advise a business when you don’t have all the information.
On the flip side, there are times where a business is very male dominated, and you can feel the distinction of not being one of the boys but it has never stopped me building a positive working relationship. I’ve found that it is far better to stay true to who I am and gain respect that way..
Managing a team effectively requires vision, communication and a number of diverse skills. As a Partner, what is your leadership style and how has it evolved since the beginning of your career?
Your style of leadership really evolves as you become more experienced, work with great leaders, and learn from them.
You have to start by having a vision, see clearly where you are trying to get to, believing in it, and then inspiring others to join you on that journey, so that they see the vision as well, even if they might not see it in the way you see it, in full technicolor! Then, you have to be open enough to listen to others, accept their inputs and work with people to shape your ideas.
Some people are skeptical, they will challenge you and make it difficult. Which is why having people who are your supporters, who you can turn to for advice and who will constructively challenge you is important. There have always been people around me at work who I have massively admired and wanted to learn from. I also feel incredibly lucky that I have had strong family support, but also work with very inspiring people at all levels.
Good leadership, as opposed to management,
has nothing to do with your position in the company, or your title,
it comes from people at different levels,
and in different situations as well.
You have extensive experience in Global Compliance, Enforcement and Crisis Management, having worked in leading international firms such as Pinsent Masons, Eversheds and now Osborne Clarke. What do you consider to be your greatest strength?
Having that self-confidence and a clear vision are probably the greatest strengths I lean on.
From a family perspective, I could never remotely achieve what I have achieved if I did not have such a supportive family, and particularly my lovely husband. I am always careful about portraying the super woman image (which I am not), I have just married really well! I have this amazing person who gives me the space and the flexibility to do my job and fulfill my career, but who is also supportive to allow me to be a great mum.
You recently supervised a survey about how the way businesses assess risk and approach compliance has changed. One of the key points is that investment will be driven by risks to reputation and where an ethical stance has been taken. Could you give us more insights about it?
We started planning the survey before Covid-19 because I felt there was a real lack of research as to how businesses were properly implementing and measuring the positive outcomes of compliance.
One issue that came out of the survey is the focus business has on reputation. As the power of social media is so crucial, it does not even matter whether you are totally compliant with the law, but rather how your brand is portrayed in the media. This can lead to a risk of implementing compliance measures for the wrong reason; you can only sustain an external reputation that’s different to what is happening internally for a short period of time.
Covid-19 has obviously drawn attention to the importance of safety and cyber security compliance. But I do wonder whether Covid has provided a more rounded view on compliance and an appreciation of the need to deal holistically with multiple risk issues.
If the public perceives that what you are doing is unethical,
then your reputation will be affected
and that is an immensely powerful incentive for businesses
to be on the front foot with compliance.
COVID-19 has created unprecedented business and regulatory disruption in a condensed period. In this context, how do you plan to help your clients navigate the legal compliance challenges that lie ahead?
I am pleased to say that there are lots of businesses that take compliance seriously and plenty of senior leaders and directors that recognize the importance of it. So, you always have good champions within a business, but you still need to bring some people with you on the journey.
For me it is all about helping the company to recognize that good compliance is essential to running a business. Regulation is increasing across Europe, there are new regulatory risks emerging including climate change and an increased focus on safety. Regulators struggle with a finite budget, so they get more creative about how they are going to enforce regulations, but when they do take enforcement action, it tends to be much more hard hitting.
For a business to ignore the importance of compliance or to limit it to a team or department is missing the point. Understanding that it must be inherent in all parts of a business is crucial.
I tend to work with clients by having a good hard look at the risks the business is facing. It is important to assess all compliance areas and not treat them in silos but try to have a more holistic approach. Doing a gap analysis to figure out how the business can make changes, and realising that it is rarely a quick process and you are not going to be able to cover everything at once, means you need to prioritize what your top five risks are and focus on addressing those.
The essential part of effective compliance
is about improving the culture and it has to be led from the top.
Management needs to be seen and lead by example,
because if you do not do that, people won’t follow.