Alice Peterson is the founder and former President of Syrus Global and the Listen Up™ ethics reporting, helpline and case management solution. SAI Global acquired the assets of Syrus Global in 2009.
Ms. Peterson is a recognized authority on the planning, execution and integration of whistleblower hotline programs. She previously held executive positions at Sears, Kraft and PepsiCo prior to founding Syrus Global in 2002. Ms. Peterson launched and ran Sears Online, where she oversaw significant growth in e-commerce revenues between 1998 and 2000. She was the Vice President and Treasurer of Sears from 1993 through 1998, during which time she had a leadership role in the company’s strategic transformation activities, including the IPOs and spin-offs of Allstate and Dean Witter Discover. Before Sears, she held strategy, corporate finance and treasury positions at PepsiCo and Kraft.
Ms. Peterson has served on public company boards of directors for twelve years. Her board committee work has included audit, compensation, CEO search, and conflicts committees. She is also on the board of trustees of the Institute for Business & Professional Ethics at DePaul University and the National Association of Corporate Directors-Chicago Chapter. Ms. Peterson participates in a number of other civic and professional activities in and around Chicago.
Transcript of Ms. Peterson's Commentary
Encouraging Compliance and Mitigating Risk
We know that when you give people a safe way to tell you what’s going on, they will tell you. Any management team that doesn’t want to know what’s going on is not optimizing the management of that organization.
Make it easy and safe to speak up … Analyze the data strategically
So we know that if we can create all the elements of a program that make it easy for people to speak up, make it safe for them to speak up then give management all the tools that make it easy for them to handle situations, to follow up, to track issues, and then to report on those issues and to analyze the data and use that data strategically in running that organization, then that organization is well served.
I think it’s easy to look at any number of situations where there have been PR disasters or even corporate failures and see that had there been a culture of open communication and a culture of reporting wrongdoing as soon as you knew about it, that there would have been very different outcomes.
We want the Board not to be enmeshed to be in all the detail of a program and certainly not to be mired in managing the company in any way, shape or form, but directors do need to a) understand the company that they are protecting, and b) they need to be able to understand that management is taking ethics and compliance seriously.
Case management is a key component of risk management
And when (a Board) has access to, for example, a case management system and can have high level summary reports that relate to what’s happening in the company, what employees are saying, and how management is discharging those issues, then they can ask better questions in the board room and certainly they can feel like they’re protecting shareholders in a better way. The information that’s provided by employees is either through a helpline, a hotline or other means of ferreting out information about what’s really going on, can give you a clear sense of where your risks are.
That information is critical because if we don’t know where the risks are in an organization, we can’t mitigate and manage those risks. When you can see what employees are saying, when they have the opportunity to tell you without any hesitation, to lay it on the line, then you really get a sense of whether your programs and policies are effective.