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12/01/2011

"Can I invite him for dinner?"

Relationships are the foundations of business. Also a good meal or a token gift. But beware! Many companies have rigid compliance rules. There's nothing doing, and nothing at all for professional buyers. The roundtable of Beschaffung aktuell and Kerkhoff Consulting had a discussion as to what extent that's reasonable.

People are doing business. That's still the way it is. Unfortunately, there are people leading others into temptation and there are people succumbing to temptation. In purchasing, there is a rather high probability of such incidents – that was just recently the result of an Allensbach survey. More than three quarters of the surveyed top managers of large companies indicated that the subject of compliance would most likely be relevant in purchasing.
On the occasion of the first joint roundtable talk of Beschaffung aktuell and Kerkhoff Consulting in Düsseldorf, experts discussed the role of compliance rules and compliance management systems (CMS) in purchasing – the experts being purchasing managers, lawyers, consultants and a journalist. The meeting was chaired by Daniel Zabota, editor-in-chief of Beschaffung aktuell.
There were no controversies – but emotions. Because the consensus was that compliance rules are useful. But are they always sensible? Uwe Ortgies (Telekom) sees himself as a helper of purchasing in matters of law, sustainability and other requirements. Dr. Andreas Möhlenkamp made reference to the great damage caused in case of misconduct – damage to the company, to the brand's reputation.
Compliance rules are no threat for the (honest) buyer; they are also used for the buyer's protection. That was pointed out specifically by Dr. Sabine Wegge (Trimet) and Andrea Rechtsteiner (Larosé). The boss should know about all invitations. He or another employee should always be present in meetings. That's also how the "four eyes principle" is understood which is common in many businesses as the only compliance rule. Nonetheless, sophisticated rules (code of conduct, supplier codes) are also spreading among small and medium-sized businesses. And there are specially trained employees like Andy Schnackertz (Larosé). Especially in small and medium enterprises where the number of employees and the number of supplier relations is rather manageable, the topic of compliance also seems manageable, said Ulf Zimmermann (Helbako). Sound judgment and nuances are important, as Dr. Mike Ruppelt (Sodexo) emphasized. There are regions – as in Western Europe – where it's rather simple, but there are also regions with more complicated views in matters of give and take. And compliance would not only apply in purchasing but, overall, sensitivity is increasing in this respect.
 
But there are also exaggerations, and that's not always good for business. Relationships are the foundations of business, and that could not be entirely neutralized, said Gerd Kerkhoff. "Do we tend to exaggerate? Can I still invite someone for dinner at all?", asked Kerkhoff. In his opinion, that would also be a top-down subject: Executive board or general management have to set a good example. Meaning that everybody must observe the rules and – as the attorney-at-law Sabrina Keese added – that would also be in the increasing interest of stakeholders (e.g. customers, suppliers, company, employees, etc.).
So it's difficult being not allowed to accept anything because that's what the rules dictate. In discussions about it, Karl-Heinz Plum (Handelshof) was often helpful. "We have to talk about the limits of where a case of compliance begins", he said for example. Let's take the ball-point pen, for example. The journalist gets a plastic pen, the buyer a gold pen. That's out of the question. One of the two may well be dissatisfied, but everything suggests that a supplier who will invest in golden ball-point pens possibly has deficits elsewhere. They both have to be aware of that: The journalist as well as the buyer. The temptation, said Karl-Heinz Plum, should not be too great.