March 22, 2018
This month, Inside Emergent continues its Women Leader Series with our interview with Laura Kennedy, Senior Vice President, Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer.
Tell us about your background and how you came to work at Emergent.
I’m an attorney by training and worked at large national law firms for the first 20 years of my career, where I specialized in government contracts and international trade compliance. In 2000, I was recruited by Honeywell to serve as their Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer, where I managed the government contracts and international trade compliance programs. In 2005, I was recruited by SAIC, a large defense contractor, to serve as its Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer, reporting to the CEO and Board of Directors. After 11 years at SAIC, I became interested in using my expertise beyond the defense industry and was intrigued by the opportunity to work in the biotech field at Emergent. I joined the company in September 2016 as the Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer and feel fortunate to work at such an interesting and dynamic company.
How did you decide to pursue the career that you are working in now? Was there a pivotal moment?
I always wanted to be a lawyer, from my early days in high school. After law school, I worked at a firm that specializes in government contracts. I very much enjoyed the diverse and challenging matters I worked on and, after about 10 years of practicing in government contracts, I expanded into international trade compliance.
There weren’t many women in government contracts or international trade back then, so I was given some great opportunities in industry associations. I held several leadership positions at the American Bar Association Public Contracts Section and Defense Industry Initiative on Business Ethics and Conduct.
How do you see your team contributing to the success of Emergent?
I’m very interested in Emergent’s growth strategy and how my function can support the growth objectives of the company. It’s important for my team to actively look for ways to help the company achieve its goals. We are working to ensure we establish a solid foundation upon which to grow our government contracts work beyond HHS and expand our international sales. Emergent has huge growth potential internationally and is well-positioned to expand in a number of markets. However, we need to closely manage the risks inherent both in international sales as well as government contracts. Both are heavily regulated areas which require us to be vigilant about identifying the risks and proactive about implementing appropriate mitigation measures and internal controls.
What are you most excited about right now in your department?
I have a great team. We are diversified in terms of tenure at the company, with some new people as well as employees who have been at Emergent for five to ten years. That mix gives us the benefits of having institutionalized knowledge as well as some fresh new perspectives.
We’re about to launch a new, improved ethics training program, which features an ethics video we created with Emergent’s executives and employees talking about our core values, culture, and key risk areas. The new program is designed to be more engaging than our old online Corpedia program. Managers will be involved in delivering the video, and we hope the live sessions will provide employees a more relevant, informative and enjoyable experience.
We look forward to innovating the training every year to keep the content fresh, new and interesting and incorporate timely issues facing the company.
What do you like best about working at Emergent?
I really like the people. They are smart, highly competent and committed to Emergent’s mission. It’s a very collaborative and collegiate environment where colleagues care about living the company’s core values. I’ve done this job at other companies and what sets this job apart from the others are the people and the culture. Our team works closely with other functions, such as HR, Legal and Communications and benefits from the strong partnerships we have across these functions and businesses.
How do you motivate and inspire your team?
I give them responsibility and empower them. I have always believed that companies should hire the best talent they can, give them high-level direction and let them go with it. I share my vision for the function with my team, develop clear goals and accountabilities and then support them the best way I can. Your employees need to believe that you are on their side and if you give them responsibility they can handle and let them deliver, you get the best results and a happier team.
What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?
Mutual respect is important for effective leadership. Respect goes two ways; I have to respect my team members, and I want them to respect me. When people respect you, they want to follow your leadership and work hard to ensure success.
What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?
Engaging employees at all levels and across all businesses and functions is a key challenge. In Ethics and Compliance, it’s particularly important that we reach people so that we can have an impact. Different methods resonate with different employees. Using cell phones and technology for training may appeal to millennials but may not for different employee populations. We need to understand a variety of working environments and learning styles to be most effective. We also have to be continually creative and innovative to find new ways to engage our employees and embed our core values firmly into our culture throughout the company.