Mini CooperThe price of oil hovers near $40 per barrel. There are all manner of responses suggested to this drop from nearly $100 per barrel just a short time ago. Yet the price of oil has long been much more than a political conversation, sometimes it leads to innovation. Today we celebrate the birth of the British Motor Corporation’s (BMC) newest car, with the launch of the small and affordable – at a price tag of less than $800 – Mark I Mini. The diminutive Mini went on to become one of the best-selling British cars in history.

Yet it was an energy crisis that led to the development of the Mini. The story behind the Mini began in August 1956, when President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal in response to the American and British decision to withdraw funding for a new dam’s construction due to Egypt’s Communist ties. The international crisis that followed led to fuel shortages and gasoline rationing across Europe. Sir Leonard Lord, head of BMC, wanted to produce a British alternative to the tiny, fuel-efficient German cars that were cornering the market after the Suez Crisis. His response was released on this date in 1959 and it has remained a British classic to this day.

I thought about Lord’s thoughtful response to a political and energy crisis when I read this week’s Corner Office column in the Sunday New York Times (NYT), where reporter Adam Bryant profiled Mark Toro, Managing Partner and Chairman of North American Properties – Atlanta Ltd., in an article entitled “Who Will Do What by When?. Toro had some interesting observations, which I thought would be useful for the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) and compliance practitioner in working towards a best practices compliance program.

One of the more prescient concepts from Toro was one passed on from his father who was a mechanical engineer. Bryant wrote, “My father had another great saying: “You worry about the wrong things.” It was kind of his version of “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” There are very important things in life, so let’s spend our time on things that are relevant and consequential to the mission, whatever your mission is, as opposed to all the other noise that’s out there, because there’s lots of noise.” As a CCO or compliance practitioner you need to understand not only what is important in terms of resource allocation but also from an anti-corruption risk perspective for your organization.

Equally insightful was an early business lesson on leadership. Once in a moment of machismo, Toro literally pounded a meeting table with his fists to emphasize a point. When the person who was the subject of the tirade left the meeting, Toro said, “my boss looked at me and said, “You didn’t see it, did you?” I said, “What?” He said, “About five minutes into your tirade, he sat back and he was done listening to you.” Toro found this to be an “early lesson in self-awareness and how you impact others. It was not easy to develop, but I worked on it.”

Toro is a very results driven leader. Yet it is not the maniacal devotion to data analytics that he rewards. He believes in allowing his employees to commit to something and then follow through with the commitment. Toro said, “There are only two types of people in the world: people who do what they say they’re going to do when they say they’re going to do it, and people who don’t do what they say they’re going to do when they say they’re going to do it.” The key is that you ask for a commitment to do something, complete a task or an assignment and then there is accountability for that person.

Interestingly Toro suggests that being a creator is a way to get ahead in business. When asked about what he would tell college graduates, one of the things that will set you apart is to create. He stated, “Whether you’re a writer, a painter, a real estate developer, create something from whole cloth and do not be an intermediary. If you create value, you will be rewarded well beyond anything you could do from being in a middleman role, which makes you beholden to those who truly create the value.”

However it does not end at that point. Baker Hughes CCO Jay Martin has said that the difference in mediocre and great is in the execution. Toro obviously agrees when he said, “The process of conception, planning and execution is also hard for most people. And it’s the last part where people typically have trouble, because execution is about doing what you say you’re going to do.” Finally, he noted a key component of any CCO or compliance practitioner position, to manage compliance projects. Any program, policy or procedure implementation or enhancement is a project. It will require conception, planning and execution. Toro observes, “My perspective now is that everybody’s a project manager, no matter what business you’re in, and everybody’s a salesman. The people who can marry those two skill sets will always have an edge.”

Toro’s perspectives and the British Mini are lessons in project management including conception, planning and execution. The development of the Mini began in 1957 and took place under a veil of secrecy; the project was known only as ADO 15. After about two and a half years, a relatively short design period, the new car was ready for the approval of Lord, who immediately signed off on its production. The Mini Cooper followed a few years later, engineered by the racecar builder John Cooper, which became a favorite of Mini enthusiasts worldwide.

How iconic is the Mini? By the year 2000, 5.3 million Minis had been produced. Around that same time, a panel of 130 international journalists voted the Mini “European Car of the Century.” An interesting outcome to an energy issue from the 1950s.


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© Thomas R. Fox, 2015