Interview with Mary Shirley

Podcast superstar.  Big time compliance author.  Fierce leader. All these things and more define my friend Mary Shirley.  Mary is the Head of Culture of Integrity and Compliance Education at Fresenius Medical.  She’s also the co-host of the wildly popular podcast Great Women in Compliance and co-author of the recently-published book Sending the Elevator Back Down.  I caught up with Mary to talk about her international career, what she’s learned from her podcasting and authoring experiences, and what she sees in the future of compliance.

You’ve had a fascinating international career.  Can you tell me about it?

If you’d told me 15 years ago that I wouldn’t be living in Wellington, New Zealand, I’d probably have been shocked and appalled!  I was born in Hong Kong and grew up in New Zealand.  In 2010 I made an impromptu decision to move to Singapore, where I got a job at Tata Communications’ global compliance program.

After Singapore I moved to Dubai to be the Head of Compliance for Aggregko.  It was my first time in the Middle East and I loved soaking up the new way of life.  Next I was drawn back to Asia, this time Hong Kong to work in Compliance consultancy as a Senior Advisor for the Red Flag Group. 

While at the Red Flag Group I met my Compliance mentor and sponsor, Mark Stanley, who had an exciting new role heading up the Asia Pacific Compliance function at Fresenius Medical Care. I was motivated by his passion and vision, so I joined his team, serving the company in Hong Kong, Singapore (yep, that’s round two for those counting) and finally Boston, USA which is where I’m currently based.  It probably won’t surprise you to hear that I’ve been making the most of visiting new cities in the US and Caribbean for the past three years!

Definitely not!  That’s incredible.  Where is your favorite place you’ve lived?

I consider Singapore to be my second home.  It is where I was embraced with open arms by the expat and community and my local colleagues, grew into myself as an adult and reached potential I didn’t know was in me.  It is very safe and free from natural disasters. When you grow up on the pacific rim of fire that is kind of a big deal. 

I love Singapore.  There’s nothing like getting a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel, the place where the drink was born.  Switching gears, you’ve got a wildly popular podcast called Great Women in Compliance. Tell us how that came to be.

The idea for the podcast was born at the SCCE Compliance and Ethics Institute in 2018.  At evening networking drinks, the topic of podcasts came up – not unexpected given several of the gentlemen around us were regulars on podcasts, including Tom Fox who owns the Compliance Podcast Network.  The discussion turned to the lack of women’s voices in the compliance podcasting space.  Lisa Fine (my co-host) and I pitched the idea of a podcast with a focus on the advancement and empowerment of women in risk and compliance.  The men were instantly enthusiastic and started throwing out names of potential guests. 

Tom Fox decided to host the podcast on his network and set us up with professional producers.  We recorded our first episode at the conference.  And the rest they say, is history!

What is most surprising about doing the podcast?

That people beyond our moms would listen to it.  Never in our wildest dreams did Lisa and I expect the large listenership the podcast has attracted. The letters of gratitude, solidarity and kudos continue to stop me in my tracks whenever we receive one.  It is humbling and fulfilling to hear someone tell us we are making a difference.

You’ve interviewed so many powerful women.  What commonalities have you seen that make them great?

The common thread that makes the great women in compliance great is that these women tend to be incredibly busy juggling work, home, community and volunteering portfolios, and yet they still made time for our dinky little podcast because they were strong proponents of sending the elevator back down.  These successful women don’t shy away from recognizing others and helping them shine.  Great Women in Compliance look out for others, celebrate in the successes of those around them, and actively look for ways to pay it forward.  Oh and I guess that our dinky little podcast isn’t so dinky or little after all.

As a follow-on from the podcast, you wrote a fantastic book.  Tell us about the book and who it is for.

Thank you for that I’m so glad you enjoyed it and as you know, your contributions were amongst my favorite.  The book is called Sending the Elevator Back Down: What We’ve Learned from Great Women in Compliance (CCI Press, 2020).  It’s for women in any risk and compliance role, though I think a lot of the advice is applicable across all demographics and career backgrounds.

What is the best part about being a published author?

It was a lifelong dream of mine to publish a book, yet due to the fact writing is not my forte, it was not something I had a great deal of confidence would ever actually happen.  It was more a pipe dream.  It’s amazing to have my dreams translate into a tangible book I can hold in my hand.  Wow!  Pipe dreams can come true!

It’s incredible to see the world react to the book.  From as far away as China we’ve had compliance colleagues sharing what they’ve learned from the book.  Just yesterday, a gentleman in the UK told me that his copy of the book was on the way.  He was very eager to receive it because not only had he seen the positive commentary on LinkedIn, but two other men in his network were raving to him about it.  It was incredibly touching to me that one, there are men in Compliance who ordered the book, and two, our allies are speaking positively about our efforts when we’re not around.  I’m so grateful to those who want a better world for equality in the workplace and are investing their time and resources into this important goal.

What do you see as a major trend in compliance for 2021 and beyond?

We’ll continue to see more topics relating to reputational risk falling under the banner of compliance.  There has been an expansion from the UK Modern Slavery Act through the recent social unrest with Black Lives Matter and the focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. Previously these things may have only been dealt with by HR, but now Compliance is firmly staking its claim to at least partial owners
hip in this area due to reputational risk and alignment with company values. This makes Compliance almost the moral guardians of companies.   

Last question. You’ve been stranded on a desert island and can only take five things.  What do you bring with you?

A copy of the Great Women in Compliance book, a light duvet, insect repellent (I am Michelin star dining for mosquitos), a pen and notepad.  Boring and practical?  Yeah that’s me!