Noblis, a government contractor specializing in providing support for civil, defense, and intelligence missions from its headquarters in Reston, Virginia, is a nine-time honoree among the World’s Most Ethical Companies®. To celebrate the distinction, the organization’s CEO Amr ElSawy took time to talk with Ethisphere Magazine about how he thinks about maintaining the rigorous ethical standards necessary among government contractors.
Ethisphere Magazine: Noblis is a government contractor, but what makes Noblis unique?
Amr ElSawy: Our work on complex scientific and technical problems saves lives and protects our citizens. What makes Noblis special is the strength of our culture and our unwavering commitment to focus on what is best for our employees, our clients and our country. We are proud of our track record as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies®. Our selection for nine years puts Noblis in very good company.
EM: Why is it important that you as president & CEO are involved in ethics and compliance at Noblis?
AE: As leaders, we set the tone and the expectations, and we also set the priorities and allocate resources. I prioritize investments in ethics and compliance to strengthen our position of trust with our employees and our clients. We work on high-consequence missions. Our employees must live our ethical values in order to deliver exceptional results to our clients. Our clients rely on our work to make critical decisions and they need to have confidence that we are unbiased and objective in the analysis, recommendations and solutions we provide.
EM: Government work obviously comes with a particularly large potential for conflicts of interest. How does Noblis handle them, on both a personal and organizational level?
AE: Our leaders are well trained, our processes are rigorous, and our expectations and code of conduct are clear. Most importantly our decisions and actions reflect our commitment to properly analyze difficult situations and business propositions. We train our employees to recognize potential conflicts at a personal and enterprise level, and our managers and leaders use modern workflow and accountable processes to assure transparency and efficient decision making. When in doubt, we elect the path that results in enhanced transparency, disclosure, mitigation, or avoidance.
EM: How do you and other leaders cultivate a culture of ethics throughout the company? How do you reach employees where they are?
AE: In addition to training and rigorous processes, we share stories and we highlight successes and failures. We use scenarios and share best practices to reinforce learning and assure accountability. Our Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer Lauren McGinley reports directly to the CEO and the Board. She participates in professional organizations and contributes internally and externally to improve compliance programs. As a member of the Noblis Executive Council, Lauren regularly interacts with our executive team and provides early feedback and guidance on key issues or challenges. As an executive team, we pride ourselves on being accessible to our employees and using a multitude of channels to engage and communicate. In the end, nothing beats direct one-to-one conversations about the issues that matter and the expectations to strengthen our culture. We do a lot of listening, and we provide clear expectations. This starts during the hiring process and is reinforced during on-boarding processes and throughout our employees’ tenure with the company.
EM: How do you measure the effectiveness of your ethics and compliance efforts?
AE: Our employees and our clients are vocal when they see something they do not like. We conduct surveys and we seek feedback and input from our key stakeholders. We also benchmark our performance, processes, and practices against industry leaders. Therefore, we participate and invest in the Ethisphere evaluation and training programs. We take the results and recommendations seriously, and we focus on continuously improving our training, processes, systems, tools, behaviors, and communications.
EM: How does Noblis see its role in the community? How do you choose which initiatives to support?
AE: We are a company that is focused on serving the public interest—our behavioral guide and motto is “for the best of reasons.” It is our responsibility to set the right example, to lead, and to contribute where we can to saving lives, protecting our citizens, and enhancing our community. Over the years we have supported a variety of initiatives that are focused on eliminating hunger, homelessness, strengthening science, technology, engineering, arts and math education, and supporting our veterans and their families. We choose initiatives that align with our values and the interests of our employees and the communities where they live—for the best of reasons.
EM: You’ve been the CEO at Noblis for over a decade now. What changes have you noticed in how the company, and government contractors more broadly, approach ethics?
AE: Over the last 13 years, Noblis has significantly strengthened its ethics and compliance program. We made investments in our teams, our training, our technology, and our communications. We increased the visibility of the ethics and compliance function and we clearly positioned it to have the right leadership and resources needed to be successful. We go well beyond just checking the box: we live our ethics and compliance expectations every day. When we make mistakes, we are quick to investigate root causes and to fix issues. The government has significantly increased compliance and disclosure requirements. Companies like Noblis, who have been keeping and staying ahead of the pace of regulation, see the business value. Other companies who have lagged in their focus have a steep hill to climb. The regulatory and compliance expectations are increasing. Society is demanding it.
About the Author:
Amr ElSawy has been the chief executive of Noblis since October 2007 and serves as the president responsible for the general management and strategic direction of Noblis’ overall scientific, technical, financial and administrative activities. He was elected to the Noblis Board of Directors in 2007.
Mr. ElSawy has extensive experience leading scientific and technology driven organizations and developing innovative solutions to some of the most complex challenges facing public sector enterprises. His experience includes research and development, engineering of complex information and telecommunications systems, cyber security, and modeling and simulation of complex operational domains. He has earned an international reputation as a leader in aviation; informing domestic and international aviation policy.