Podcast: Talking Compliance Culture with Rudy Green

“Compliance professionals were people before they were in compliance,” Rudy Green joked when I sat down with him for our most recent episode of Compliance Conversations. Green told me about his path to compliance from an undergraduate degree in organizational behavior, to being drafted into the NFL, then to law school, and eventually becoming the compliance officer at the University of Texas in Austin. “Life experience is what makes a great compliance officer,” he said. He later added that he just loves to “be a part of a team.” And, what is compliance if not the ultimate team player profession?

We know that compliance professionals are critical to a company’s financial success (especially in healthcare) so it only makes sense that compliance culture counts to some degree. In fact, experts might argue that company culture might be the answer to solving compliance issues. The data suggests yes but — big surprise — it’s not always that easy when you’re on the job.

Tune in to this episode of Compliance Conversations, Talking Compliance Culture, to learn how to effectively deal with issues as they arise, how to tackle risk assessment, and why patience is so important.

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Episode Transcript

CJ: Welcome everybody to another episode of Compliance Conversations, I’m CJ Wolf, Healthicity's Sr. Compliance Executive, and today my guest is Rudolf Green. He goes by Rudy, he’s a friend and a colleague from my Texas days and he’s got a wonderful breadth of experience and expertise that we hope to pick his brain a little bit today. Welcome Rudy.

Rudy: Thank you CJ, and thank you for having me on, I’m very happy to participate.

CJ: Yep, you’re very welcome. Rudy, one of the things we typically do with our guests is have them take a few minutes to introduce themselves a little bit and tell us professionally a little bit about your background and some of your experiences if you don’t mind doing that before we get into some of our topics.

Rudy: Alright, that’s fine. I’ll talk about it in terms of how I got into compliance and then my career as a compliance officer. I am a lawyer by profession, and worked as an attorney for a company actually in the cable television business for over 20 years before coming into higher education and compliance. When I talk about my, aside from my experience, and I’ll talk about that in a minute, when I talk about my approach to compliance, my attitude, I often say that I was a person before I was a compliance officer.

CJ: That’s great!

Rudy: Andy by that I mean, there were certain things that were very important to me, that have informed my approach to compliance. In particular I’ll go back to undergraduate and a little bit of my graduate education. My undergraduate degree was essentially in organizational behavior.

CJ: Ah, that’s great.

Rudy: When I look at organizations from a compliance perspective now, I often look at organizations from a perspective of someone who’s trying to increase the operationally efficiency of the organization, and not just looking at issues of compliance.

CJ: Right.

Rudy: That didn’t form my approach to working as an attorney when I was general counsel for cable television company. I did that from the early 80’s until the early 2000’s. One of the things that I though was very helpful for me, well let me talk about a couple of things that really help prepare me for a career as a compliance officer during my work as a cable television attorney, I don’t like just saying cable television attorney because it was more than that, but we had a management structure where we had a central management group and very decentralized operations. We had management headquarters in Austin Texas but we had cable systems around the country, Alaska, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Washington D.C. area, and other parts of the country, so I was very accustomed to dealing with issues in a very big centralized environment, where you had managers away from the central office who might be undertaking steps and making decision that were not necessarily directed from the central office.

CJ: Yeah.

Rudy: So, I did that for 20 some odd years, we ended up selling that business, I also have a business degree that I obtained while I was working, but that was having obtained an undergrad degree in organizational behavior I was always interested in business, and I only became a lawyer because I was interested in being better in dealing with organizations.

CJ: That’s really interesting, I can kind of see, I didn’t mean to interrupt you, I can kind of see how that plays into higher ed., and we’ll get to that, go ahead sorry.

Rudy: And your right, once we sold that business I was still relatively young and wanted to do something else. And I know I didn’t want to work in a law firm as a career, I did work in a law firm both immediate following law school and both immediately following the time in that we sold the rest of our cable assets, but I knew I wanted to do something different. I liked being part of an organization, another aspect of the person that I am, who became a compliance officer, is that I like working in groups and as a member of a team. I played team sports quite a bit during my life, ended up playing football at the college level and actually was drafted by the Detroit Lions, team sports have always been really important to me. Group dynamics, that was essentially my major was organizational behavior but there was strong focus on group dynamics. So working as a member of a team and being part of a group is also very important to me, I think is one of the reasons that the law firm career didn’t really appeal to me so much.

CJ: Right:

Rudy: I liked the idea of being part of a group and helping an organization or team achieve its objectives. So those are the types of things that made it easy for me when the opportunity came to become a compliance officer, and that did come while I was working briefly at a law firm, and decided that I wanted to commit myself to the non-profit sector.

CJ: Okay.
Rudy: As it turned out, the president at the University of Texas at Austin was newly appointed, this is 2006-2007, and wanted to re-organize the compliance office at the University of Texas at Austin, and bring in a full-time compliance officer.

CJ: Okay
Rudy: I knew a number of people at U.T. having lived in Austin for the previous 25 years at that point, and when I saw the job description and saw that it required knowledge of regulatory environment, knowledge of dealing with issues in a regulatory environment, working in a decentralized environment, and working around issues of compliance, of course at that point in time I was looking at it like a lawyer.

CJ: Exactly.

Rudy: Oh, compliance, I know how to deal with compliance related stuff, I can do this! They ended up hiring me, and it was a great decision on my part, I hope it was a great decision on their part.

CJ: It was!

Rudy: That’s kind of how I ended up as a compliance officer at University of Texas at Austin. One of the great benefits of starting at UT Austin was that it was part of the UT System of institutions that made a very strong commitment to compliance programs in the various UT institutions in the late 90’s. I came into UT Austin in 2007 early, but again, I benefited from a lot of the experience that was within the UT system of institutions. That was very very helpful to me, helped me get started, gave me a foundation even though I had some ideas of my own once I got in there. A few years later, after I’d been at UT about 5 years, I was contacted by the University of Miami, wanted to start a central compliance program for their university, and I ended up being hired there, and worked there for almost 5 years, until recently, it was changing leadership and some other issues that came up that lead me to believe it was time to do something else. I’m at a point in my career where I’m trying to decide how to use my experience and expertise to benefit others and to make myself happy.

CJ: Yeah, well, that’s, you know, I knew kind of the latter half of that story you just told, but I didn’t know the former, now I really see how you were probably groomed for many years and you gained some of the skills I observed. You and I met when we were at Texas and I was in the UT system office, having come from MD Anderson. Your undergraduate in organizational behavior, what a great preparatory discipline for compliance, because really a lot of compliance is knowing the rules and regulations, but it’s getting people together like you said, working in a team, and getting a team to go over some hurdle or find some solution to a problem.

Rudy: Well I think the people that know me and my approach to compliance, and I’ll say to compliance and ethics, is that I have a strong focus on culture, I start by thinking of culture, and these other things are technical issues, but really, the most important thing is getting people to do the things they need to do.

CJ: That’s right.

Rudy: And there’s a skill that’s associated with that.

CJ: Absolutely, and I know you’ve gained it so we’re really pleased that you’ll share a little bit of that today. Shifting gears, a little bit from where you have had some experience to where you’re most recent experience, and now you’ve just recently retired from University of Miami, so you have the pulse probably of higher education compliance, which is a real thing, and as you talked about it, decentralized type of environment where you have a lot of strong minded decision makers doing wonderful things, research and other things out in the broader university community. Given kind of some of that, in your recent experience both at Texas and Miami, what would you say are some of the major risks facing higher education organizations today.

Rudy: Okay. I will talk about risk in two categories. One I’ll talk about environmental risk, which is typically what people are talking about when they are asking about the risk to an institution. They are talking about things that are out in the environment that create problems for an institution, but I’ll also talk about something that I’ll describe as programmatic risk, that has to do with the compliance and ethics program itself.

CJ: Okay.

Rudy: Let me start by, in that the programmatic risk kind of feeds into another topic that I would like to discuss that has to do with what aspects of a compliance program that are especially important in higher education. So, an environment risk, a lot of course depends on the business, when I first came in as a compliance officer one of the things I asked myself, one of the things I have to find out, what is the business model. How does this institution assure its longevity that it will continue to be in business, how does it make itself grow? If I were in the private sector, I’d be saying how do we make money, but that’s not what I would be looking at in higher education. So, I had to quickly get an understanding of the environment at UT Austin which is very different than the environment at the University of Miami. Just off the top, U of Texas of Austin is a public institution, has its own set of issues that relate to risk that are not, well I’ll come back to it, but they relate to risk that’s different than a private institution setting, like U of Miami. So, public vs private, when you talk about big issues in higher education research is a big deal if you’re a big research institution. One of the things I learned quickly when I came into UT Austin was how important research was to the viability of the institution.

CJ: Exactly.

Rudy: Viability in terms of how you make money, but also in terms of reputation. That research is, so risks associated with research are very significant, both in terms of complying with regulations that are associated with the grant of money, or the giving of money, by the funding institutions, but also the conduct of researchers, and during their business, there are a number of things they have to comply with that are more along the lines of ethical standards a lot of the times, but they are reflected in actual regulations much of the time. Complying with the regulations, conflicts of interest within research, and it’s not just the researchers, one of the things that I really had to come to grips with in one of my experience is how outsiders, in a phrase, by outsiders I mean non-employees of the institution interface with researchers, and it’s particularly problematic if some of these outsiders have position in the organizations that might not be employed, but they can be board members, and people looking for ways to do business with an institution, that’s very problematic, especially in a private institution setting, where members come onto the board for reason other than political appointment, and there is not as much legally required transparency in the conduct of activity, as there would be in the public school setting.

CJ: Right.

Rudy: So, research related risks are big. A lot of risks are associated with the political environment, one of those risks right now has to do with campus safety as it relates to sexual violence and sexual assault prevention and response.

CJ: That’s right.

Rudy: Even though, the presidential administration has changed, and people suspect that there will be less focus on creating and enforcing regulations in this area, the fact is the genie is out of the bottle.

CJ: That’s right, I was going to say that it has already been established as a major area of work at almost all university.

Rudy: Right! I mean today I was just reading about the news that came out of Dartmouth, I mean, there are, it effects the culture, again, these issues, and regardless of if there is a regulation directly associated with, this is an issue that we have to deal with from a compliance and ethics perspective.

CJ: That’s right.

Rudy: It’s extremely important, not only because of the politics, but when you look at the demographics of the environment now, and seeing how fast changing things are not only with respect to racial demographics, but gender demographics.

CJ: Exactly.

Rudy: This is a very important risk issue, like I said, if not just strictly related to compliance, but from a cultural perspective. You cannot, in today’s work, conduct your business free of risk from information security and privacy.

CJ: That’s what I was just going to ask you, in healthcare we see that a lot, but in higher ed. It’s not just the healthcare side of higher ed., but even student records and security of information like you mentioned.

Rudy: Yes, student records, financial information, I mean, payment card industry standards. I mean we, as higher education institutions, we lend money, we give scholarships, we loan money, we do things like a financial institution, and we have to, one of the very interesting things as an attorney looking at the higher education environment is, there are so many regulatory issues and compliance issues because higher education instructions have so many facets.

CJ: Right, it’s almost like a mini city. Yeah, it really combines things like a municipality, because it’s almost like a campus is functioning as a little city, academia, healthcare, all of those, security. All of those things that you’ve mentioned.

Rudy: Well it’s certainly the case of both when I was at the university of Texas and the university of Miami, I kind of looked at the president the same way I looked at the head of state. For different reasons, U of Texas is the flagship institution for a great university system. So that’s different, but then in Miami, University of Miami in South Florida is one of the major, one of the leading, employers in the area, and it has tremendous impact in the environment. Not only in South Florida, but in the Caribbean and south America and central America. It’s almost like a head of state.

CJ: Exactly. So how do those risks kind of tie into those aspects that are important for a compliance program then, in higher education.

Rudy: Okay, so I’ll look at, and I was talking then about environmental risk and then I folded back into the idea of programmatic risks, one of the interesting insights is that the president of UT Austin had when we were having a meeting one time, he says “One of the risks we have to make sure of, that we address, is that we’re doing compliance and ethics program right.” Because there was some evidence that before I came, that there was a halfhearted effort to comply with some of the local policies about compliance and ethics program. There are just some things that are very very, first of all difficult, in a higher education environment, and it makes it harder to have an outbidding program. First of all, it requires resources, a strong commitment of resources, in an environment where resources are hard to come by.

CJ: Exactly, yeah.

Rudy: It requires a commitment of resources to do it right. There is a closely related, because I was going to talk about kind of risk assessment, and some of the formal elements of a program, but enterprise risk management is kind of closely associated with, but we’re not going to get into that today. I was listening at a conference, a higher education conference, and they were talking about enterprise risk management and how big multinational corporations can do it well but higher education institutions have a difficult time, I mean, risk assessment is difficult in a higher education environment, because you have to rely on people, many of whom have no management experience and don’t understand the concept of risk. So education the environment about risk is a critical issue for higher education compliance program. I can talk about it in terms of program awareness, but it’s really educating people about risk in the idea of managing risk. And again, you’re working in an environment where you have people that are not trained as managers regularly, and they are the ones who are primarily responsible for helping you obtain that information.

CJ: Yeah, and some of the folks, like when we talked about research, the reason a researcher is typically good is because they kind of break boundaries, the nature of a good researcher discovers new things, and that personality trait, very valuable when it comes to research, if that bleeds over into kind of a compliance area they might feel like they could break boundaries there as well, and we know they cant.

Rudy: Well that’s a very good point, which that there is another risk that we rarely talk about, that was a big risk for me at one of the institutions, and that’s kind of this concept of governance. Having people that are effective leaders lead the effort. One of the really critical things at higher education is when you find wrongdoing doing something about it and being fair in the way that the discipline is meaded out.

CJ: Right.

Rudy: A lot of these researchers they become stars, and to some extent they become untouchable.

CJ: That’s exactly right, when they are bringing in such large grants and funds, just like you said they become stars. In my kind of past, if I can kind of make an analogy, in the physician world, some of those star surgeons, some of those star researches again, they become so large in the institutions mind that that could be a risk if they are not allowing the program to affect them as well.

Rudy: Yeah, and one of the environment risks in certain type of instructions that I didn’t mention before is athletics. And you see this kind of problem play out in athletics regularly when the head coach of a football team, or basketball team, if we wanted to think about certain Kentucky instructions.

CJ: Exactly, more recent events.

Rudy: You have to make sure in the NCAA word, institutional control. You have to have that regardless of where the risk is, but it’s more advanced as a concept when you’re talking about NCAA division one athletics compliance, but it’s the same concept governance, institutional control, and we don’t talk enough about how we’re governing. Of course, that same Kentucky institution is having the problems with the accrediting agency around issues of governance.

CJ: Oh, I didn’t know that, interesting. Wow. Yeah, that’s really interesting. And I don’t mean to cut you short on that topic, but one of the last topic in the little time that we have left, if you want to go back to some of those other questions that’s fine too. Given these risks as important aspects, people are the ones that run the compliance programs. What kind of qualities and skills do professionals and compliance officers in higher education need to have, given the risks and the aspects and the programmatic necessities that are out there. What people skills need to be in a compliance officer.

Rudy: One of the things I often say is we can talk about being in the compliance officer business but we’re really in the people business, and you can say that about a lot of positions when you’re dealing with an organization. First off all it has to be someone who is capable of effectively interacting with people at all levels of the organization, because one of the critical components of an effective compliance and ethics program is being able to communicate effectively throughout the organization. So that’s vertically as well as horizontally, and the compliance officer, the top compliance officer, has to be able to effectively deal with people throughout the organization regardless of their position or status within the organization. So that mean, not only do you have to have knowledge, but you have to have the ability to gain the respect of those around you. In higher education environment you have a lot of people that, excuse the expression, are full of themselves, so you have to be able to somehow command the respect of leadership within the organization, academic administrative leadership, those who are the real influencers in the organization what their position is, because we all know that title and position does not necessarily define level of influence in an organization.

CJ: That’s right.

Rudy: You have to be knowledgeable about the issues, so you have to know something about research. You have to know something about shared governance within higher education, and be able to effectively deal with issues that relate to this shared governance concept in higher education. If you want people to talk to you and share information with you, you must be a person that can keep confidences, as appropriate. I mean, sometimes you must provide information, but other times you have to be able to obtain information in a confidential way and then be able to use it effectively in getting your work done. Finally, you must have good judgement. I talk to members of my staff regularly at Miami at the importance of people respecting you for your judgement, if you want to influence people, they must respect your judgement.

CJ: So how do you, if that’s the case, and I agree with you. How do you teach people about exercising good judgment in compliance in higher education in good judgment, let’s say they are newer in the profession?

Rudy: Yeah, that’s an interesting point. I had a kid that was in business school come to talk to me a few months ago at the idea of having a job in compliance, and you know, he was very upfront in saying “I want to get a job as a chief compliance officer out of school.” And I almost laughed. Yeah, I had to kind of hold off from chuckling, just to get them to understand that there are so many things that you have to be able to do to be a good compliance officer that you can only learn from life experience. Again, it’s a people thing, you have to be able to deal effectively with people, and they have to trust the things that you do. And that does not happen by showing someone a degree.

CJ: That’s right, and to me, that kind of reminds me of what you said that the very beginning where all the years you spent, granted it was a different industry, but you learned skills about organization behavior, even though you studied it, you actually learned it on a job, you learned how to work in a decentralized environment, and these are all skills I think that come, I think, probably with only experience, and you can only study it so much, and then you actually have to do it an dive it for a while before you become an effective practitioner. Would you agree with that?

Rudy: I would certainly agree with that. There are a couple of personal attributes that I think are important also, one is patients. When you’re dealing with faculty members in higher education you have to be patient, because they are not necessarily going to get it the first time.

CJ: That’s right.

Rudy: You need to work with people, and show them that you’re well intended and that you’re not out just for yourself, that you’re out for the organization. You then have to be persistent, because again, they are not going to get it the first time, oftentimes.

CJ: That’s right.

Rudy: Those are the two personal qualities that are extremely important as well.

CJ: Those are great things to add. We’re kind of coming short on our time here, but I want to give you the last few minutes, anything that comes to your mind, or anything that we didn’t discuss that you think is important when it comes to higher education compliance today?

Rudy: I would only say that it’s easy as a compliance officer when you’re on the administrative side of the business of higher education and you’re looking at the organization as a business. It’s important not to forget why the institution is there, and it’s for education and for students, even though an institution contributes greatly to the economy of the environment. It’s important to keep in mind that you are associated with a higher education institution, so going to graduations, and being part of activity that celebrates the institution for its primary commitment, to educate those around it, is very important for a compliance officer. You must be kind of part of the organization to be effective. That means not only being good at compliance, but being a good member of the community.

CJ: Yeah, and buying into, and serving that greater mission and vision of whatever that institutions primary purpose is. As you mentioned with higher education, it’s education, right, it’s teaching students and people. There’s a lot of these other risks are kind of prereferral, and sometimes they seem to become the focus of some higher education institutions, so I appreciate that you mentioned that culture, and no matter how successful an athletics program or a research program, all of those contribute to this greater environment of educating a student, but they shouldn’t, now I’m getting on my soap box I guess, but they shouldn’t replace that central purpose.

Rudy: I agree.

CJ: Well Rudy, I really appreciate your time, I think we have enough, you have enough ideas we could probably do three or four more podcasts, I just appreciate your willingness to share some of your experience and some of your expertise on these topics, so that you very much.

Rudy: Well I’ve enjoyed it CJ, and I look forward to speaking to you again in whatever capacity, not just in a podcast. I really appreciate your willingness to share your expertise and to provide a platform for us to reach others.

CJ: Well thank you Rudy, and thank you to all of our listeners, until our next episode, we’ll talk to you again soon. 

Questions or Comments?