Category Archives: Norman Katz

A Look At the New Jersey Fraud Scandal

Editor’s Note: This post is from regular contributor Norman Katz, Sourcing Innovation’s resident expert on supply chain fraud and supply chain risk. Catch up on his column in the archive.

Late July 2009: A 2-year FBI investigation results in FBI and IRS agents arresting five rabbis, three New Jersey mayors and two state legislators. All that was missing was the partridge in a pear tree.

The alleged frauds included human organ trafficking, money-laundering and political payoffs for favors. The perpetrators were caught when authorities exposed criminal activity through the different criminal enterprises. Monies and goods exchanged hands through business transactions involving domestic and international participants.

The perpetration of these frauds involved lots of people and likely relied on lots of trust. It is only through trusted relationships — honor among thieves — that organized crime can really be successful. Built on an otherwise shaky foundation when one support falls, when one person’s activities are compromised, the entire organizational structure’s stability is compromised to one degree or another.

A simpler analogy may be to say that the more pipes the easier to gum up the plumbing or to picture what happens to a house of cards (or dominos, etc.) when a supporting piece is removed.

When fraud is exposed, trusted relationships are often cast aside and knowledge leveraged to reduce penalties on individual players who would (gladly) sacrifice other participants to spare themselves harsh punishment. Any operational screw-up that resulted in exposure revealing the frauds could cause a domino effect that would ripple through the organization’s infrastructure and could bring down the entire enterprise.

Global supply chains contain many links and thus must rely on trusted relationships. The perpetration of a fraud in one supply chain link may manifest itself differently as it travels down the chain. The ripple effects of such a fraud may be felt at each chain link in terms of disruptions, problems and the need to take corrective actions. The notorious product recalls of the last few years were the result of failed trusted relationships.

What causes trusted relationships to fail? Certainly slip-ups that expose fraudulent behavior are one reason. Another reason is pure and simple greed and this is likely more indicative of trusted relationship failures in supply chains.

Controls must exist to provide parameters within which supply chain relationships function. On the purchase order item identifiers, prices and quantities are the controls which define how much of what is being purchased. The same applies for information on invoices as to what is to be paid. Controls also exist within business software applications like Enterprise Resource Planning systems, whether to limit transaction amounts or restrict functional use based on job role.

Monitoring of the controls provides oversight to ensure the controls are applicable and being followed. Even in criminal enterprises the business of business changes and controls that may have once worked may be rendered less effective or totally ineffective in the new business model.

Overall it’s still the people that matter. Gaps in controls will (only) be exposed by untrustworthy people who place their own greed and desires ahead of those of the enterprise which serves all and including customers, suppliers and employees alike.

Trust in enterprises starts at the top with senior management and flows down through the ranks. The enterprise that has the fortitude to value integrity above all else is certainly representative of one that can be trusted to do what’s right in all situations, and that’s the kind of enterprise you should look to conduct business with whether domestically or internationally.

Norman Katz, Katzscan

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Precedent Sets a Standard

Editor’s Note: This post is from regular contributor Norman Katz, Sourcing Innovation’s resident expert on supply chain fraud and supply chain risk. Catch up on his column in the archive.

As a long-time and avid newspaper reader I keep up-to-date with what’s going on locally and nationally, even if I find out the day after. I can’t imagine starting my day without enjoying a healthy breakfast while reading the newspaper. I read through all sections, though I may not thoroughly read each and every article. I also make sure to read through the letters to the editor, not just to find out about goings-on I might have missed, but to gauge outrage or support for a particular topic.

The wife of the Fort Lauderdale (FL) chief of police fired a gun at her husband while in their home and then proceeded to fire off two more shots outside the home as she was chasing him. The police chief’s wife was apparently quite distraught over his suspected cheating which, to my knowledge, has not been proven or disproven. Fortunately no one was injured as she missed not only her husband but also any innocent bystanders. In statements she informed that she did not mean to specifically put a bullet in her husband, but was distraught and looking to get his attention or something to this effect.

During her recent court hearing, the gun charge was thrown out as if no gun was used at all, and the wife was charged with lesser offenses.

Based on the letters to the editor, there is considerable outrage that — it would seem once again — money and political connections favor those who have them in what should be courts of law that are supposed to be neutral ground where only the law should be discussed. This is — from my understanding — especially true in criminal cases where laws are written down and are relatively “fixed”, as opposed to civil cases where precedent (prior case outcomes) sometimes set a standard. The newspaper’s own “news columnist” was also quite direct in his criticism of how this case was handled, and asked whether regular folk in the same situation would have been treated the same.

But there is a bigger issue in here in how this particular courtroom drama is playing out: how the precedent of this case will set a standard for future cases. There is no disagreement that she fired three times from a gun while aiming in the direction of her husband, who has not pressed any charges against her. The outrage from the community is that someone with lesser political connections and financial resources would have been treated much differently — and more harshly sentenced — by the court. With full admission that she did fire a gun three times, how is it possible for this fact to be simply omitted by the court when considering her punishment for breaking the law? Based on quotes in the newspaper from legal experts, quite a few people are wondering about this.

Organizations must set clear rules on how it stands for fraudulent behavior, and must definitively abide by its own rules in administering actions against employees, customers, or suppliers who perpetrate fraud.

To fail to create and publicize clear rules may make it difficult for the organization to punish fraudsters, especially when it’s their own employees. Organizations should not be complacent in believing that all employees understand what constitutes correct behavior, and an employee’s status has shown to not be a good indicator of such knowledge.

To fail to adhere to policies in terms of actions — which may include and require termination — against employees who are found to have committed fraud sends a clear signal to everyone else that the organization lacks the fortitude to follow through and make the hard — yet necessary — decisions. This could easily serve to actually encourage more bad behavior because employees who were possibly on the fence about committing fraud now know that there is no punishment if they get caught.

If your organization does not have policies for behavior and procedures for violations of behavioral standards, there is a risk of allowing bad behavior to be conducted, if not also condoned, and being left with few repercussions to deal with the source of the problem.

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Norman Katz, Katzscan

Educating to Reduce Risk (in Your [Retail] Supply Chain)

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Editor’s Note: This post is from regular contributor Norman Katz, Sourcing Innovation’s resident expert on supply chain fraud and supply chain risk. Catch up on his column in the archive.

Being just a little past my mid-40s I realize I’m at risk (how appropriate or rather inappropriate is that in this blog!) of dating myself, but does anyone remember the phrase “The Three Rs”?

This phrase represents the basic foundation of education: reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Still to this day, and probably emphasized by all the standardized testing done which grades the performance of schools, I don’t think the necessity of this trio of core skills is any less important. However, I’d like to throw in a fourth (and actually fifth) R in regards to the benefits of education: risk reduction.

Of all the supply chains in the world, the retail supply chain in the United States is arguably the toughest and most sophisticated of them all. The smallest disruptions can result in profit losses and missed sales. Timeframes are very tight and the drive towards 100% perfection is relentless.

Retail suppliers invest heavily in technology, automation, and business processes to ensure they are complimentary collaborators with their retail trading partners, all with the goal of reducing the risk of not shipping the right products in the right time at the right quantity to the right destination in order to ensure their products are on the shelf when the consumer wants to buy them.

But what about investing in education to reduce risk? Can technology and automation eclipse the need for some sound, basic education on how to participate in a supply chain, retail or other? I would argue that such education is absolutely necessary. Without a good educational foundation, enterprises run the risk of incorrectly investing in technology and business processes that fail to truly address the root-cause of problems or don’t enable growth, planned or otherwise.

Selecting the right education provider can be tricky in-and-of-itself. There are plenty of companies who offer quality training. Do your due diligence and investigate the company and its trainers for experience and depth of knowledge. Keep in mind that anyone can offer training classes and that slick sounding company names may be just that and offer little in terms of training that will have any substance or credentials in daily business activities.

Certifications and training courses are often provided by trade associations. This is good because trade associations often carry a “name” or brand with them so there should be confidence in the quality of the education and that it will be recognized through one or more industry verticals.

Some associations are independent and are thus self-certifying. For these independent associations some have grown quite large and are well-recognized such that their certification is accepted and respected. Look at who is backing the certification and whether the backer has respect and visibility throughout one or more industry verticals. Is the training endorsed by outside entities? And just because a list of well-known companies is provided does not necessarily mean that the training is recognized as a standard or is widely respected. Do your homework! How long has the association been around and how many members does it have?

What this boils down to is that fraud can be perpetrated by training and education organizations too. Knowingly misrepresenting goods and services is fraud.

Buyer beware. Trust but verify. Due diligence.

Not just catchy phrases but ones to live by.

Norman Katz, Katzscan

Dietary Changes to Our Risk Appetite

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Editor’s Note: This post is from regular contributor Norman Katz, Sourcing Innovation’s resident expert on supply chain fraud and supply chain risk. Catch up on his column in the archive.

The cover story of the June 22nd, 2009 issue of Information Week magazine was titled: “What’s Your Appetite For Risk?“. The article was part of the magazine’s annual security survey.

What we initially learn in the article should be of little surprise: the recession is taking its toll on all aspects of company operations, including investments in technology security and compliance, though these two concepts should not be confused with one another. A lot of focus was given to security and compliance within cloud computing.

With budgets stressed and spending trimmed, the appetite for risk has been forced to grow a little larger as priorities are examined in more detail to determine where — and how — limited dollars should be spent. As the article continues, compliance requirements are getting funded to keep (public) companies surviving from one audit to the next, but that doesn’t really mean that risks are being managed properly.

A reader of my blog posts (on Sourcing Innovation) contacted me in early July to tell me about a supply chain risk management success story. Nick Woods is in the public relations department of Red Prairie, a software company that specializes in warehouse management, transportation, and workforce management solutions. Nick shared with me a press release on the implementation of Red Prairie’s warehouse management solution at Sargento Foods who is known for their cheeses, sauces, and snacks.

In the press release, the VP of Logistics at Sargento Foods, Dennis Roehrborn, was quoted as stating: “By upgrading the solution in our Plymouth, Wisconsin distribution center and satellite plants in Kiel and Hilbert, we are better equipped to exceed customer expectations for accurate order fulfillment and on-time delivery.”

While there are many risks to supply chain operations, the failure to meet customer expectations is certainly a critical one. Regardless of how great your product is few customers will tolerate repeated supply chain disruptions that increase operating costs and result in a failure to cost-effectively get the right product on the store shelf when the customer wants to buy it.

Here is a great example of a company who recognized risk and managed it by investing in the necessary technology. Mr. Roehrborn also states that the implementation was minimally disruptive to existing operations and that productivity target goals were exceeded with the new software.

Seems to me like Sargento Foods has such a large appetite for its supply chain relationships, (and probably a good appetite for the quality products they produce too), that they decided to put themselves on a diet when it comes to risk.

The need to exceed customer expectations is even more important in a recessed economy, and companies must proactively assess the risk of losing sales and customers versus the cost of doing nothing. Managing risk doesn’t require taking bigger bites than you can swallow at one time — that would be foolish when tackling most any project. Even if you have to nibble at it a little at a time, chewing carefully and thoughtfully, make the investments necessary to little-by-little reduce risk and improve performance.

And don’t forget to brush regularly and floss daily.

Norman Katz, Katzscan

The Cost of Big Business

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Editor’s Note: This post is from regular contributor Norman Katz, Sourcing Innovation’s resident expert on supply chain fraud and supply chain risk. Catch up on his column in the archive.

“There’s a kind of mentality in this sector that [settlements] are the cost of doing business and we can cheat.”

The above is a quote by Bill Vaughn, an analyst at Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports in response to the news that Pfizer had been fined a U.S. record $2.3B. (Yup, that’s a “B” not an “M”.) Apparently Pfizer was caught illegally promoting its pharmaceuticals by heaping all sorts of gifts such as golf outings, massages, and resort stays upon doctors.

This wasn’t the first time Pfizer had been caught – they are a repeat offender having had to settle such allegations by the federal government four times in the past 10 years. Ouch. This is going to need more than just a topical ointment to solve.

I have written before about what is so sad about these kinds of fraud cases and this case is so massively big that some the consequences and characteristics bear repeating:

  1. The $2.3B penalty is about 4.8% of Pfizer’s 2008 total revenue of about $48B. The penalty seems materially significant and could cause stock prices to fall affecting investor’s earnings.
    • This would appear to violate Sarbanes-Oxley COSO compliance framework aspects such as the Control Environment (also known as the “tone at the top”), Internal Controls and Risk Management.
    • Can we expect a change of corporate management and a refund of performance bonuses?
  2. The products involved in the illegal promotions included Viagra, Zoloft and Lipitor.
    • Is the prescription of unnecessary pharmaceuticals one reason why our healthcare system is so expensive and in crisis?
    • What are the health impacts to a person when pharmaceuticals are prescribed that they really didn’t need?
  3. What ethics examples are being set for current generations of employees and those up-and-coming sales representatives, doctors, and business executives?

But before we build a gallows for one, let’s consider the doctors who accepted these trips and gifts. Okay so Pfizer should not have offered but by the same token the doctors should not have accepted. If business ethics are not taught in medical school or promoted by the American Medical Association they darn well should be.

Taking this another step further it’s one thing for the doctors to accept gifts but it’s another thing for them to act on them. (Um … gee … that actually sounds a little bit like fraud itself!) If doctors (a) were persuaded to and actually did prescribe medicines without cause to patients who didn’t really need them, or (b) were persuaded to and actually did prescribe one company’s brand over another without regard to which brand was actually the better remedy, then the doctors themselves are also at fault here.

To me there are aspects of this case that parallel the disturbingly thought-provoking movie District 9. What affected me most in that movie is that I think the brutal and ego-centric representation of the human race and the various government, military, and gang players was dead-on accurate, and that unnerves me. I felt sorry for the victimized aliens who were more the “good guys” than the humans.

Mr. Vaughn’s observation describes the steamy underbelly of some healthcare companies & healthcare providers. This is analogous to when police officers are caught selling drugs from the evidence room or abusing their authority for their own benefit especially when it conflicts with protecting and serving the law-abiding public, or when politicians abuse their power for their own self-interests.

This case is about nothing more than greed sustained by a lack of integrity and a failure of fortitude to do the right thing. The people who could put a stop to fraud like this seem too reluctant to do so in lieu of favouring their own self-interests, so I’m hoping for an alien invasion by a more ethical species than ours.

Norman Katz, Katzscan