More On

10 traits of a good chief compliance officer: Lessons from polar exploration

What explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton's journey teaches us about CCOs

After Roald Amundsen claimed the South Pole for Norway in 1911, the British polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton mounted an expedition to claim the remaining prize—crossing the continent of Antarctica. He christened his ship the Endurance after his family motto “Fortitudine vincimus. By endurance we conquer.”1 It is said he ran this advertisement: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.” Over 5,000 people applied to be a part of his 26-man crew, and there was even a stowaway.

The journey went almost as advertised. Just 100 miles from its landing spot on Antarctica, the Endurance was beset in pack ice.4 For almost 10 months, the ship drifted in the pack ice before being crushed. Forced to abandon ship, the men lived on ice floes—dragging three lifeboats by sledges until they reached open water. They sailed for seven sleepless nights, landing on a small sliver of inhospitable land called Elephant Island. From there, Shackleton and five men set out for South Georgia Island, some 800 miles away. Remarkably, they made it, but landed on an uninhabited part of the island. Shackleton and two of his men crossed the island by foot and got help, eventually rescuing all 27 crewmembers.

  1. Integrity. Integrity is the quality of being of sound moral principle. This is necessary of everyone in an organization but especially the executives who manage the business and tell others what to do—by their words and deeds. Perhaps the need for integrity in a CCO is best understood by considering the opposite of integrity: hypocrisy. It would be troubling, for example, to have a CCO who did not comply with rules and regulations or internal company policies. Shackleton demonstrated his integrity at the very outset of his expedition. When Britain entered the Great War on Aug. 4, 1914, Shackleton consulted with his crew and then offered his ship and crew to the government saying, “There were enough trained and experienced men among us to man a destroyer.”A one-word response came by telegraph: “Proceed.” Shackleton was willing to sacrifice everything for a greater good.

  2. Courage. CCOs must have the courage to alert senior management and the board when red flags arise. This is a critical characteristic, since many professionals could be intimidated or worried about losing their jobs. In the case of Shackleton, his courage to make difficult decisions was evident from a prior polar expedition in which he was within one hundred miles of claiming the South Pole for Britain, but turned back to save his crew’s lives. Later, the British explorer Robert Scott made the opposite decision and he and his men died after reaching the South Pole. “Shackleton’s decision to turn back was more than a singular act of courage; it bespoke of the dogged optimism that was the cornerstone of his character. Life would always offer more chances.”

Contributing Author

author image

Anastasia Kelly

Anastasia Kelly, currently a partner at DLA Piper, has served as general counsel at four Fortune 500 companies: Fannie Mae, Sears, MCI and AIG.

Bio and more articles

author image

Suzanne Folsom

Suzanne Folsom is general counsel and senior vice president of governmental affairs of United States Steel Corporation.

Bio and more articles

Join the Conversation

Advertisement. Closing in 15 seconds.