Companies are just starting to realize that they need to conduct deep, thorough executive vetting of c-suite executives in what seems to be a proactive attempt to get ahead of a potentially destructive stories. And it’s not just a bad PR that companies are trying to avoid either — it’s the aftermath. Recently, two examples of what can go wrong when you don’t vet your executives came to light:
- The CEO of Samsonite resigned after a report from an investment fund revealed at one time had claimed to have a PhD, but never completed the program. Samsonite’s stock dropped by over 20% in the wake of the news.
- Texas Instruments tapped a 22-year veteran of the company to take over as CEO. He resigned after two months when it was found he had engaged in “personal behavior that is not consistent with our ethics and core values.” The company’s shares fell as much as 2.5 percent in after-market trading.
Bloomberg has reported at least 437 high-profile executives and employees have been accused of harassment or other misconduct over the last 18 months. Temin & Co., the crisis-consulting firm that updates this figure daily, reports of those accused, 259 were fired or left their jobs.
So, why are so many companies dropping the ball – and what can you do to protect your firm?
Why Are Companies Hiring Executives and Not Catching These Issues?
“You’ve seen more cases of people getting busted for not having the education they said they did in the last ten years or so,” said Trustify’s VP of Investigations and Legislative Affairs Matt DeLeon. “Prior to that, you either worked your way up, and then once you became a vice president or president at one company, you could move across.”
It’s been assumed by executives, boards, and even human resources departments that if you were able to serve in a c-suite level position at one company, you should be able to move into a similar role at another with minimal scrutiny. “People would say ‘he’s a VP here, or a president there’ with no real look into it,” added DeLeon. “And now in an age where information is more open, these things are investigated more.”
How to Improve Executive Vetting
How can companies protect their reputations from skeletons in their executives’ closets?
Vetting candidates for the executive level can be performed with additional due diligence by a private investigator. Using skills and tools they’ve mastered in decades of experience, they are able to fact check data captured during a general background check - and go beyond it. Investigators are experienced in verifying information and catching mistakes, such as duplicate records and misspellings.
They know how to track down any discrepancies such as an expunged charge or an arrest made while the person of interest was a minor, and how to uncover any litigation that the candidate may have been involved in at a prior employer.
A typical criminal background check will show a record of any arrests or convictions. But of course most people haven’t been arrested or convicted of a crime. That doesn’t mean they aren’t involved in criminal activity or dangerous behavior though, it could just mean they haven’t been caught yet. Private investigators can use techniques like ‘backdoor reference checks’ to assess character without relying on criminal records.
And what if they have they falsified their work experience? Background checks do not usually verify education. A private investigator can contact people who have worked with and dealt with the individual to verify their story.
Investigators are also skilled in deep social media checks. While a subject may not have a DUI on record, a social media check can reveal if they’ve engaged in behavior that may lead to drunk driving. Social media activity can also reveal any bias or prejudices that can undermine someone's credibility and reliability.
How Can a C-Suite Candidate Get Through an Executive Background Check?
How can a candidate up for a major promotion or another c-suite position at a new company avoid these situations? The same way anyone looking for a job would — honesty.
“You have to sign off (on the background check)” DeLeon added. “And if you’ve consented to that, you’re open to what will be discovered. A lot of the time I don’t think the intent is necessarily to be dishonest, it’s to get your foot in the door.”
Regardless of what happened during a previous hiring process, be upfront and alert decision makers of previous incidents — this is known as the “warts and all” approach. If you disclose embarrassing information it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of your journey. Allies in the company may see an incomplete degree as something that they will note, but still move forward with you based on the qualifications that landed you the interview in the first place.
“I think you have to judge the overall scope of the person,” DeLeon explained. “If you lied about it (previous experience, education), it is the deceit that is the concern. If you’re crossing your fingers and hope something doesn’t come up in a background check, that’s a character flaw that is going to be indicative of how you’re going to behave.”
“We live in a gotcha culture,” DeLeon concluded. “Companies don’t want to look stupid and say ‘we didn’t do the background check.’ It’s a much harder argument to present the situation to the media and say ‘well, he didn’t go to college here, but he has this experience, and he accomplished this,’ especially if someone else was able to uncover that information.”