Over the course of this year, we have seen the escalation of an unprecedented crisis, COVID-19. This global pandemic has brought with it the emergence of previously unthought-of organizational risks. Now, almost a year into the pandemic, we wanted to reflect on the critical role that compliance teams play in crisis management efforts.
To tackle the topic, we talked to Stacey Hanna, General Counsel of Global Ethics & Compliance at Lonza, one of the biotech firms spawning the groundwork for the creation of a vaccine for COVID-19. Lonza is a global provider of integrated healthcare solutions operating in more than 120 countries within its two branches: Pharma, Biotech & Nutrition, and Specialty Ingredients. Before leading Lonza’s compliance efforts, Stacey began her career at an international law firm, after which she began working in compliance during her time at Capsugel, a pharmaceutical start-up, that was later bought by Lonza’s parent company KKR Investments. After the acquisition in 2017, Stacey was asked to join Lonza to build their first compliance program from the ground up.
The webinar was part of our now-virtual event series ‘Compliance Heroes’, where we aim to bring the compliance community together to share knowledge and highlight leaders in the industry. To learn more about the pivotal role that Lonza’s compliance team has played in managing the crisis, keep reading:
Adam Kaiser (AK): How did Lonza address crisis management at the beginning of the pandemic?
Stacey Hanna (SH): Lonza has large operations in China, and when the pandemic started our Chinese branch was actually managing the outburst by itself as there was a general perception within the company that the virus would not escalate to a global level. Quickly after, however, a few of us from compliance and the global head of communications started to see signs that the crisis could escalate, which led us to spearhead a global COVID task-force led by the Global General Counsel to lend a hand to our Chinese colleagues. As the pandemic evolved, each location developed their own sub-task force of which I had the Americas one.
AK: How did your presence in the biotech and chemical industries impact your strategy for crisis management?
SH: Our presence defined our strategy. At the moment, we are at the forefront of combatting the virus in two main ways, we are developing two commercial lines for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, and also manufacturing U.S. EPA-approved (Environmental Protection Agency) disinfectants in our Chemical industry side.
Considering that a large portion of our workforce is essential workers who had to work manufacturing our products around the clock to help combat the pandemic, our main priority when launching our strategy was the safety and well-being of our employees.
The second priority was business continuity. Because of what we do and especially in the two areas I mentioned, it was fundamental to keep our sites running. To do so, we had to keep our people healthy and as safe as possible – as a result, we put many elements in place early to ensure that our people would be as safe and protected as possible to help combat the virus around the globe.
AK: How has technology played a role in the crisis management at Lonza?
SH: For most companies, the automatic answer is that this has forced years of change into a few months in terms of technological adaptation, essentially forcing people that were not tech-savvy to become familiar with new tech platforms when working from home.
One of the other ways in which technology and GAN, in particular, helped us a lot, was to use existing platforms to automate parts of our crisis-communication with employees. GAN’s automated Q&A functionality helped us swiftly communicate quick changes in company policies amid ever-changing domestic guidelines.
Concerning our manufacturing sites, technology also enabled us to reduce the number of workers on-site by allowing some of our technicians to guide other colleagues in machine-repairs off-site by using virtual goggles.
AK: How can organizations best prepare for managing a crisis of the dimension of COVID?
SH: Considering that this type of organizational risk is likely to happen again in the future, I would encourage organizations to go and look back at everything they learned from this pandemic. This time, we had to make quick decisions on the fly, and at least from our experience, this has helped us notice gaps in certain areas that we might not have seen otherwise which should help companies take a risk-based approach. Even though these gaps might not be huge, our natural tendency as a society is to continue moving without reflecting on those failures. I think businesses should pay attention to these gaps and try to mitigate them, so next time around, we can ensure we learned from our mistakes and have processes in place to tackle new potential risks.
AK: Why is compliance well-positioned to take a leadership role in crisis management?
SH: I think compliance is well-positioned to take on a leadership role in crisis management because of its global reach and birdseye view. In multinational corporations like Lonza, compliance is a lot of times one of the only departments with previous experience of working with teams around the world as compliance teams are usually not siloed regionally.
I also believe that even though compliance has changed from being more of a ‘firefighter function’ to being a strategic asset of the company, there are still some firefighting elements to our department that become useful during times of crisis. Compliance teams are usually well equipped to deal with problems, and also know how to do it in a way in which we can move forward and help the company do better next time.
AK: What type of policy changes are you doing as the crisis evolves? And how is this changing your compliance program in the long term?
SH: In the long term, it is hard to say how it will affect our compliance program as our current policies have proven to be highly adaptable. In the short-term, however, we have had to change our priorities, which has affected how we roll out our ‘normal’ compliance program. We have had to put new policies in place for holidays, in-person meetings, and other things that have a significant impact on people. Therefore, when you put these things in place, you need to include different parts of the organization to show that multiple disciplines are involved in those decisions.
I also think that this event really redefined the meaning of a crisis, which would have been defined differently two years ago, and can help put things into perspective in the long run.
AK: How can compliance officers ensure they have a seat at the table when a crisis arises?
SH: Compliance officers should take a proactive approach and always come with solutions if they are going to come up with problems. Instead of lamenting that lack of continuity of our regular jobs, we should understand where we can be of help to the organization.
AK: How have you navigated the different levels of risk throughout the countries you operate?
SH: This question goes back to why compliance is well-positioned to tackle these issues. In the day-to-day compliance world, when you as a compliance officer draft policy, you have to take into account different cultures, as this affects the operationalization of policies on the ground. Similarly, in the management of this crisis, since every country has reacted very differently, we have had to re-assess different contexts constantly and determine how we are going to deal with them dynamically.
AK: Can a crisis affect the culture of an organization permanently?
SH: 100%. It goes back to the good and bad that comes out in folks and companies when the rubber hits the road. This crisis is an opportunity to determine what are our defining values as an organization and also, to be proactive in redefining the meaning of work post-pandemic. There hasn’t been a change as significant as this one in how we work since the industrial revolution, and we should take a proactive approach to determine how the future will look.
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We would like to thank Stacey Hanna for her timely insights into the powerful role compliance can play in crisis management. Lonza’s approach to the pandemic has ensured not only business continuity, but has emphasized their commitment to ethics by prioritizing the safety of its employees.
If you would like to listen to the full interview we encourage you to check out our Compliance Heroes event: Mastering Compliance’s Role in Crisis Management. To read more interviews with compliance professionals from our CCO Conversations series check out Wim Vandekerckhove’s interview on How to Manage Whistleblowing and Retaliation or our interview with Deborah Spanic, Chief Compliance Officer at Clarios, around how technology helped their compliance program excel in third-party due diligence.