Attorney uplifts companies as an in-house ethics and compliance officer

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Kim Yapchai believes serving as an in-house ethics and compliance officer is a dynamic career that allows an attorney to help shape the entire culture of a company.

A 1993 graduate of Wayne State University Law School, Yapchai recently was hired by Fortune 500 company Tenneco as its chief ethics and compliance officer, a position to which she brought years of experience and accomplishments with other firms, including Whirlpool, Masco Corp. and Ford Motor Credit Co.

Since joining Tenneco a year ago, Yapchai has been part of the team working on the merger of Tenneco and Federal Mogul which will lead to the spinoff of a new public company. In addition, Tenneco recently acquired Öhlins Racing A.B., a Swedish technology company that develops premium suspension systems and components for automotive and motorsport industries. Her work now is to integrate the newcomers into Tenneco’s program and culture of compliance.

Chicago-based Tenneco is one of the world’s largest designers, manufacturers and marketers of various systems for vehicles, including clean air systems. Before she took the job, Yapchai carefully researched the company’s culture and values, she said. Those values matter very much to her. She always tries to lead by example, and appreciates working with company leaders that do the same.

“The best part of my job is guiding employees to embrace values-based decision-making and training them on how to stay safe by following the law,” she said. “The fun part of ethics and compliance for me is the creativity involved in the communication and training. It is important to be selective when choosing a company, because the scope and breadth of the role (as an ethics and compliance officer) can vary a lot from company to company.”

How does one research a company’s core values before taking a job?

“Many indicators are available to help you assess a company’s culture,” Yapchai said.

For instance, review a firm’s ratings on Glassdoor.com, which uses employee feedback to extrapolate data; look at Great Place to Work® or World’s Most Ethical Company® awards; and talk to company suppliers and any employees you may know, she suggested.

“Additionally, you can also research public information on lawsuits and regulatory fines,” Yapchai said. “Finally, ask questions about the culture and decision-making during the interview so you can see how the interviewers respond both verbally and with body language.”

She is business-oriented through and through, and has been since she took her first course in economics as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan.

“I found the topic to be intuitive for me, and I liked the mixture of analytics and theory combined with real world application,” said Yapchai, who grew up in Clinton Township.

With a bachelor’s degree in economics under her belt, she headed straight to Wayne Law for law school.

“I decided to go to law school because I knew I wanted to be an in-house counsel to help companies achieve their business goals,” she said. “One of the reasons I chose Wayne was because of its great reputation for preparing students to become excellent, practical-minded lawyers. That reputation is also why Ford Credit recruited directly at the law school for its summer clerks.

“My summer clerkship at Ford Credit led to a full-time position, and then I returned to Wayne Law to recruit other students. I am proud to say that one person I recruited, Marlene Martel, is now (executive vice president and) general counsel for Ford Credit.”

Yapchai is an avid gardener, and she compares her job to her hobby.

“I enjoy building and transforming things,” she said. “Whether I am planting a garden or changing a company culture, I dig through roots to achieve the desired environment that promotes growth. I know how to drive results in a way that improves employee engagement. I strive to create leaders, not followers, and I like to have fun along the way.”

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