At Wyndham Worldwide, creating a strong ethical corporate culture might start at the top, but it certainly doesn’t end there. Executive vice president and general counsel Scott McLester emphasizes that the effort at one of the world’s largest hospitality companies is truly a team concept. “We establish a strong tone at the top,” he says. “And then that message is delivered throughout the various layers of the company.”
For McLester, becoming part of that team began back in 2000. Following an in-house position at Merrill Lynch via a partner position at New Jersey-based law firm McElroy, Deutch, Mulvaney, and Carpenter, McLester began his tenure at what was then the Cendant Corporation, managing litigation. “It enabled me to get closer to the hotel business and learn more about the franchise model,” he says. McLester moved into his current role following Wyndham’s separation from Cendant in 2006. Of how his past positions benefit his present one, McLester says, “It provided me with a better perspective on how that business operates and how lawyers could add value to that operation.”
At the base of Wyndham Worldwide’s corporate culture are a number of core values including accountability, respect, and—at the top of the list—acting with integrity in everything you do. “We try to live and breathe those core values,” McLester says. “We believe that good compliance is good business.”
Guided by those values, the company achieves its globally recognized ethical corporate culture through a network of connected layers, beginning with senior-level executives from CEO Stephen Holmes to CFO Thomas Conforti and human resources executive vice president Mary Falvey, to the various layers of compliance executive leadership. The compliance and ethics leadership team consists of about eighty people who, along with compliance officers for each of the company’s three business units—Wyndham Hotel Group, Wyndham Exchange and Rentals, and Wyndham Vacation Ownership—are responsible for delivering the message and established tone. “The board of directors is also very dialed in,” McLester says.
The effort even extends outside the borders of the in-house team to external counsel partners. Hand-selected as part of the company’s national counsel program (NCP)—established prior to the company’s transformation to Wyndham Worldwide and expanded throughout the years—each member is perceived as part of the team. The NCP is a collection of law firms who receive the bulk of Wyndham Worldwide’s work in exchange for favorable fee arrangements. Benefits to the company include lawyers who really understand Wyndham Worldwide’s business. “They operate as true business partners, therefore they really understand the culture,” McLester explains.
“Scott McLester’s role at Wyndham Worldwide illustrates that clear focus creates the greatest opportunity for bringing a strategy to life. Wyndham Worldwide is focused around ethics as a strong value driver for the organization. This effort permeates every part of the organization, including training, policy, and messaging. This focus leaves no question what the leadership of the organization values in the behavior of their employees.” —Guest Editor Ed Wise
Yet the road to an ethical corporate culture at Wyndham Worldwide doesn’t stop there. Senior vice president and corporate compliance officer Korin Neff is behind the company’s compliance champions program. This unique initiative sees selected leaders in various departments throughout the company spread the tone to their colleagues, allowing the message to be delivered throughout all layers of the company. “We’re moving the message at the ground, at the middle, and at the top,” McLester says.
Another initiative playing a large role in the success of the company’s ethics and compliance program is extensive training programs. These programs are conducted in collaboration with the business unit compliance officers who, according to McLester, do a fantastic job taking the pulse of associates in each of the three operating units to determine what the level of training should be. These detailed programs include training on various topics from sexual harassment to antitrust, as well as training on company policies. Being an international company also adds another layer of complexity to the programs. “What has made the training successful is taking that complexity and distilling it down,” McLester says. “And delivering it in an effective way so it is absorbed.”
Wyndham Worldwide differentiates itself through the variety of training solutions that it provides to employees. For example, senior leaders routinely discuss what compliance means to them at various associate events, and company employees have an opportunity to learn about different compliance topics at kiosk events throughout the year, as well as through a blog on the company’s intranet site.
This past spring, Wyndham Worldwide was recognized as one of the 2015 World’s Most Ethical Companies by the Ethisphere Institute. The company has also received many other awards in the area of corporate social responsibility, including diversity, human rights, sustainability, and best places to work. This was the third time the company received the prestigious honor. To maintain its top position, the company has a number of strategic initiatives and plans in the works. No matter what those efforts may be, Wyndham Worldwide will undoubtedly embrace them company-wide.