Prof. Dr. Katharina Beckemper, Department of Criminal, Criminal Procedure and Economic Law, University of Leipzig
Dr. Kurt Michels, Head of Group Compliance, Volkswagen AG
Dr. Urs Müller, Lecturer and Head of the Practice Group Consumer Goods and Retail, ESMT Berlin

Was it individual misconduct, an organizational failure or deliberate fraud? One thing is certain: the diesel scandal rocked a global group – and brought the importance of compliance to the public’s attention with a vengeance.

Accordingly, Kurt Michels – the man responsible for compliance at VW – was clear: “The issue that drives us is, how do we design our processes so something like this can’t happen again?” Michels said he now sensed a fresh breeze in compliance that transcended rules and processes, and was reflected in the corporate culture. People were now asking. “How can I stop certain things from getting opaque? How can I stop topics creeping in without people talking about them?” Those answers, Michels emphasized, were important to prevent such events recurring.

As a lawyer, Katharina Beckemper told listeners that regardless of corporate culture and ethics, compliance primarily meant obeying existing laws – and the diesel scandal clearly involved crimes. She said many compliance appeals reminded her of attempts to get people to pay their taxes. “Not paying is illegal, and we all know it.” Recalling her apprenticeship as a toolmaker at Karmann, she said: “We didn’t have compliance – but we did have Mr Karmann, which was the same thing. Once a year, he looked us straight in the eye. We’d never have dared to break a company rule.”

So why do people act illegally? As ethics researcher Urs Müller knows from many investigations, “They’re not all bad or corrupt. Some are regular employees whose behaviour deviates from the norm increasingly over time.” During the diesel scandal, some of them may have thought: “Norm consumption figures don’t match real-life figures anyway … so why not just fit a defeat device?”

To prevent such developments, Michels put a focus on individual employee responsibility, saying everyone – not just the compliance department – was responsible for compliance. Managers in particular needed to ensure that on their watch, rules were observed on a daily basis. While the compliance department could certainly assist and advise colleagues, ultimately people had to develop their own compass for what was appropriate or not. “Compliance is the second pair of eyes”.

Summing up, Urs Müller said: “We need tough rules, but we also need a sense of judgment.” It was important to tune in to an organisation proactively and ask: “Do we have a problem?” This was the only way to discover things the rules don’t cover too.

Automotive Summit 2018 – Executive Summary

In early December 2018, over 600 automotive experts from all over the world – including manufacturers and suppliers, tech and energy companies, politicians and associations – attended the auto industry summit in Wolfsburg, Germany. From 3 – 5 December, the industry’s big hitters discussed strategies, concepts and technologies for tomorrow’s automobiles and the future course of their industry.

We’ve compiled the highlights from the Handelsblatt Auto Summit 2018 in an interactive follow-up report.