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Nick Leeson’s cautionary tale about integrity and corporate culture

Diageo's joint venture, brandhouse, based in South Africa, hosted its annual Pathway of Pride event in February. The event is designed to inspire a culture of integrity in the company, educating employees about compliance, ethics, anti-corruption and anti-bribery. This year, a unique and fascinating guest speaker was invited.

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Nick Leeson is the 'rogue trader' who, at the age of 28, committed a fraud so large it caused the collapse of the company he worked for, the 230-year-old Barings Bank. He was imprisoned for six years in 1995. Today, his personal story holds valuable lessons for employees of any organisation.

Speaking to brandhouse employees, the former banker explained that the fraud started as a small mistake, a miscommunication discovered hours later, which he tried to hide. He admitted that telling his superiors what had happened 'was the first thing I should have done'. Yet he confessed to having a 'fear of failure' and moreover described a 'culture of fear' at the organisation. 'I thought I’d lose my job [if I asked for help],' he said.

Asked what others could do to avoid a similar path, Mr Leeson said: 'asking for help and advice and communicating when you have a problem, rather than trying to deal with it as I did many years ago.' He also stressed the importance of seeking out experienced people who may have been in similar situations – but who made the right decisions instead.

Gerald Mahinda, brandhouse MD, commented: 'Feedback from employees has been outstandingly positive, so much so that there is now demand for more frequent compliance and ethics events. Employees are also debating far more about integrity and ethics issues, and there have been more calls to our SpeakUp confidential hotline.'