Interview with Larry Thompson
Larry D. Thompson has been at the company as an independent Compliance Monitor within the framework of a monitorship since 2017. His task: assess and monitor the company so that the details of the settlement reached with the US Department of Justice following the diesel scandal are fulfilled. Volkswagen has taken numerous measures since 2015 that have strengthened the company’s compliance, reporting and control systems. Thompson and his team are currently testing to see whether these will also be effective in the long term.
What is your opinion: Did Volkswagen learn something from the Diesel scandal?
Yes, Volkswagen has learned the importance of a healthy, accountable and transparent corporate culture. The company is holding both executives responsible for their conduct in the involvement of the Diesel scandal and is communicating this to its employees.
Is Volkswagen a better company now – after the scandal?
No question about it. Volkswagen is a better company after the scandal. But Volkswagen is a large and complex company. It still has a way to go in its journey to have a high quality integrity and compliance program in place and operating effectively. I think the board of management understands this and that is why it is devoting resources and effort to the T4I program.
How has your work at Volkswagen been perceived and how is the collaboration with the company?
The team has received excellent corporation from Volkswagen employees and the works council. We’ve also received very good logistical support and co-operation from the Project Management Office.
Are you getting the support you need to complete your task?
This is an area that needs improvement. We are now in the testing phase of my work. I am required by the court to certify that Volkswagen’s integrity and compliance programs operate effectively. The exact wording of my mandate from the court is that I have to certify that the programs are ’reasonably designed to detect and prevent violations of the anti-fraud and environmental laws’. We all have a lot of hard work to do to make certain that the company understands my expectations regarding certification and help me to certify the company.
What feedback do you get from employees?
This is amazing – Volkswagen employees are proud of the company and want the company to succeed and improve. They tell me and my team that they are pleased with the improvement they have seen today. And this gives me a great deal of satisfaction to have been even a small part of these improvements and changes.
Some employees recently however have expressed some anxiousness and have even said that they felt some pressure in going through the certification process. All employees need to be assured that we are going to do this right. We’re going to participate in the certification process in the right way and employees should not feel any pressure as we go through this process. Let me explain my response further: The pressure is we have a year and a half to go and we have a lot to do and some people feel pressured to get this done on time.
Volkswagen is a global company. How about integrity and compliance: May there be differences due to cultural distinctions?
You always need to understand and respect cultural differences. But Volkswagen as a global corporation should have one set of core values that it stands for and supports – no matter where it does business. An environmentally sustainable automobile is just as important in China or Spain as it is in Germany. Acting honestly and with integrity is just as important in Brazil as it is in the United States. The Group Board Members regularly point out that – for the credibility of Volkswagen – it is important that each of us should not only follow the law but also act with integrity.
Does this message get through to the employees?
Volkswagen employees are absolutely receptive to this message. All the Volkswagen employees I interacted with during the course of my monitorship are proud of the company and want the company to move past the Diesel scandal as quickly as it can.
Misbehaviour has always been punished at Volkswagen – in the worst case with dismissal. Recently the company reports about misconduct and sanctions more and more. Do you notice some effects already?
I’ve seen the new communications in this area and they are very well done. I do not have at this time any assessment of the effectiveness but I’m certain that over a period of time as these communications continue the employees will appreciate them. The employees will understand that Volkswagen is committed to holding its executives accountable and is being transparent in the process.
How long will Volkswagen have to deal with the Diesel scandal?
Volkswagen should never ever forget the Diesel scandal and the incredible damage monetary and reputationally it did to the company.
When will your mission be fulfilled?
Technically, the term of my monitorship ends in June 2020. My mission however will remain fulfilled hopefully forever. And so long as a scandal of the magnitude of the Diesel scandal never reoccurs at the company.
You visited Wolfsburg many times. Can you tell us about your most impressive experiences here?
I like cars and the Autostadt is a fantastic experience. I’m also very impressed with the outreach that the partnerships – for example with the city Uitenhage in South Africa – have. It reaches out, they help people there. Everyone in Wolfsburg from the mayor on has been very welcoming to me.
When you are in the USA, what are you saying about Volkswagen?
I talk about Volkswagen’s size and complexity. I also talk to people in the United States about the changes Volkswagen and the rest of the automobile industry face with electric mobility, ride sharing and autonomous driving. The industry as a whole is undergoing a state of rapid and intense transformation. And Volkswagen as the largest automobile manufacturer is having a leadership role in this. I also tell people in the United States how impressed I am with the work ethic of Volkswagen employees. They work hard, they work very hard and hold themselves to very high standards.
Larry Dean Thompson
(born 1945) is a renowned US lawyer. Between 2001 and 2003, he was deputy attorney general in Washington – the second-highest position at the US Department of Justice. As US attorney for the Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta), he also dealt with complex cases such as the Enron scandal. He teaches corporate and business law at the University of Georgia School of Law.