"You are right in the sweet spot."
That’s what people said to ethics and compliance expert Murray Grainger when he first moved to Spain.
After years of legal and compliance experience in London and Sydney, Grainger then went on to work as an in-house lawyer for French aviation giant Airbus. But Grainger's interest in ethics was sparked while he was studying for a global executive MBA at Spain’s IESE business school — an interest that eventually saw him being asked to become head of the French firm's ethics and compliance programme.
Then he moved to Madrid for personal reasons and found a “deeply conservative” business culture which was far too tolerant of corruption and unethical practices.
"The reality is that Spaniards won’t change their way of doing business until a competitor is hit with a major international legal suit or executives are thrown into jail," Grainger told The Local.
"There just isn't the same culture of investigative journalism you find in some other countries, and while, for example, Spanish banks will get fined, you won’t see the individuals behind those illegal deals being identified and put in prison," he said.
"On the international curve, the US is ahead of Europe, and countries like Germany are ahead of Spain. But it does mean this county offers great challenges and opportunities."
Grainger's response to the Spanish situation was to set up Impact on Integrity, a compliance and ethics consultancy for businesses, which also provides training and translation services.
So far the response has been exciting. "Spain is now waking up to international best practice and there has been a legal awakening too, in terms of who is responsible for transgressions," he says.
Impact on Integrity also runs events like the Global Business Ethics Challenge taking place in Madrid on Tuesday. This event, conducted in both Spanish and English, sees participants working in teams of four as owners of a virtual company. Players have to work against the clock to deal with ethics problems. At the end of the 90-minute session they are rated on their profitability but also — critically — on their ethics and compliance performance.
"This is a safe and neutral environment for people to learn about ethics-based issues. People are not sitting in an office in Telefonica or Santander," Grainger says to highlight the benefits of this style of training.
The idea is that companies can then follow up with in-house training where they can look at ways to improve their business integrity strategy.
"But of course, the courses are also fun, and it’s a great way to network."
With ethics and compliance issues "it’s all about winning over the water cooler", says Grainger. "You need to be able to explain to people why being a better business citizen is important — and how it can be a positive value proposition.
"Corruption is really hurting Spain. It’s hurting the country’s reputation and it’s hurting foreign direct investment too. Too many Spaniards aren't taking the issue seriously either. They are not looking at people on the news and saying: 'They should go to jail'. They are shrugging their shoulders and saying, 'That’s how it is in Spain.'"
"That’s what needs to change."