Recovering From Ethical Lapses and Investigations: Siemens

The $1.6 billion fine handed down to Siemens in 2008 was much more than a record breaking fine, it was a lesson for other companies to learn from.

Posted by Joe Gerard in Corruption, Ethics, Ethics & Compliance, Fraud on July 28th, 2010

The $1.6 billion fine handed down to Siemens in 2008 was much more than a record breaking fine, it was a lesson for other companies to learn from. Prior to the bribery scandal, Siemens had an ethics and compliance program in place, however, there was a missing link between leadership and the enforcement of the program. The company’s cooperation during the SEC investigation lead to a reduced penalty, but also gave way to a complete re-design of the company’s internal ethics and compliance controls. There are many lessons learned from the Siemens charges, the reaction to the investigation and the actions taken by Siemens to position the company as an ethics and compliance leader in the post-scandal era.

Bribery Investigation

An amnesty plan had been worked out with Siemens, as employees willing to come forward with information pertaining to the bribery scandal and identifying key players, would be free from prosecution. In a report from the Wall Street Journal, the amnesty program was offered to all Siemens employees (110 of which came forward with information), with the exception of the 300 employees who made up the company’s top executive team. One particular employee who provided inside information was indicted employee Reinhard Siekaczek. He reported that he managed an annual budget worth $40-50 million, which was considered to be a “bribery budget”. As reported in the New York Times article “At Siemens, Bribery Was Just a Line Item,” salepersons and managers within the company used this money- “slush fund”,  to maintain relations with corrupt government officials.

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The level of cooperation in the investigation significantly reduced the cost of the settlement with the SEC. In comparison to other companies hit with scandals, Siemens responded quickly to put measures in place to detect and prevent future acts of bribery within the company. In the New York Times article “At Siemens, Bribery Was Just a Line Item,” they state Siemens was provided with additional leniency, only having to plead to accounting violations, “because pleading to bribery violations would have barred Siemens from bidding on government contracts in the United States.”

In the Ethisphere article “Prepared Remarks to Compliance Week 2010- 5th Annual Conference for Corporate Financial, Legal, Risk, Audit & Compliance Officers,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer states:

“In the end, the benefits Siemens received through its cooperation, even in the absence of a voluntary disclosure, were plain – the $450 million fine that was paid to the Justice Department, although quite substantial, was a far cry from the advisory range of $1.35 billion to $2.7 billion called for in the Sentencing Guidelines. Put another way, Siemens received a penalty that was 67 to 84% less than what it otherwise could have faced had it not provided extraordinary cooperation and carried out such extensive remediation.”

Ethical Recovery

An investigation was launched into the bribery scandal in 2006 and was completed in 2008. The cooperation exhibited by employees at Siemens allowed the investigation to be conducted in less time than originally predicted. Rather than replacing former executives with individuals from inside the company, Siemens filled the roles of major positions with outsiders- which was probably for the best. In 2007, Peter Solmssen was brought into to clean up the ethics and compliance disaster at Siemens.  Also in 2007, Siemens named Peter Löscher as the company’s new CEO.

Since the Settlement, Siemens has divided the company into three divisions in order to clarify reporting lines and increase responsibility.
Siemens has worked to improve their corporate reputation by ensuring that compliance is integrated into the furthest reaching corners of their business. Siemens hired Michael Hershman, of Transparency International, to help build a compliance and anti-corruption policy and training program. Similar to the actions taken by Ed Breen at Tyco, Löscher replaced many of the company’s top executives to start fresh. In most companies the ethics and compliance department remains fairly small, however, Siemens was determined to put their words into actions and created an ethics and compliance department consisting of 600 employees- one of the largest to date.

Since the Settlement, Siemens has divided the company into three divisions in order to clarify reporting lines and increase responsibility. In the New York Times article “Siemens’s Prosperity Doesn’t Obscure Bribery Scandal,” they discuss the reasoning behind the division:

“Mr. Löscher also put the leaders of those three sectors onto the central managing board in Munich. That puts an end to a system in which a leader of a major business, like power generating, had his own managing board and reported to Munich headquarters without being based there. Siemens officials say the old way allowed corruption to spread and inhibited accountability.”

Siemens has developed a training program, with employees at various levels receiving training in regards to issues faced based on employee role. The format and frequency of training also varies depending on level within the organization. On the Siemens corporate website, they communicate that training includes topics such as foreign laws and corruption risks. Employees are now required to sign a statement after reviewing the company’s code of conduct, in order to communicate their commitment and understanding of the code.

Here is a link to a slide deck I came across from a presentation prepared by Siemens titled “Compliance Program at Siemens,” presented at Strengthening Integrity In Private Sector Organized by UNDP, MENA-OECD. The slides contain specific information related to the ethics and compliance program currently in place at Siemens.


Joe Gerard
Joe Gerard

CEO, i-Sight

Spend my days showing off the i-Sight investigative case management software and finding ways to help clients improve their investigations. Usually working with corporate security, HR & employee relations, compliance and legal teams.

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