Oral Histories

Emmanuel Tchividjian

Interview Segments on Topic: Challenges/Accomplishments

Emmanuel Tchividjian Biography

Emmanuel Tchividjian serves as the Executive Director, Ethics Consulting Practice for Ruder-Finn, the only PR agency with an ethics officer, ethics committee and regular ethics meetings to which all staff are invited. Tchividjian has been with the company since 1997. Prior to joining Ruder-Finn, he worked for the Government of Switzerland and in particular, was tasked with researching and telling that country's account on issues relating to WWII and the Holocaust.

Mr. Tchividjian is a Certified Compliance & Ethics Professional from the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE) and a member of the Ethics & Compliance Officers Association, (ECOA) the national professional association for managers of ethics and compliance programs. He is the Ethics Officer of the New York Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America as well as a member (ex-officio) of the National Board of Ethics and Professional Standards. He is also a member of the Swiss-American and French-American Chambers of Commerce.

Transcript

Interviewer: So what’s the biggest challenge that you faced during your career?

Tchividjian: I think a career is faced with challenges and when one challenge is met, the next one appears. I can’t really pinpoint on one. I would say that I wish that more people would come and speak to me freely before things happen. I think it’s true for most people that work in that position.

Interviewer: Let’s talk a little bit more about your career. Who has had the most significant influence on your career, and why?

Tchividjian: Undoubtedly, Mr. David Finn. He is eighty-nine years old. He started a company with his friend Bill Ruder in 1948; sixty-two years ago. In the early fifties, he started an ethics committee at the firm. So he has been at the center and the soul of the company’s concern about doing the right thing. So he’s been a mentor; he’s been an example; and still today is able to surprise me the way he reacts to events and incidents that happen at the firm.

Interviewer: Can you give us an example of that?

Tchividjian: I will give you a great story. We had hired a journalist who used to work for PR Week magazine and then had gone to another PR firm and then was laid off, so he was looking for a job. He was a good writer and we had a good connection, so we hired him. His role was to be a writer for the agency. Journalists are usually good writers, and he was a good writer. But things were not going very well. Either he was not looking hard enough for a job, or people didn’t trust him; we weren’t sure. But, we felt responsible; we hired him; it was not really his fault so we kept him on. Then one day he came to see my boss about something; I wasn’t in that day. At the end he said oh by the way you’ll see something in the media tomorrow, but don’t worry; it’s nothing. The next morning, front page of O’Dwyer’s, which is another PR publication, Ruder-Finn’s Dobrow—his name was Larry Dobrow—settle with the SEC for insider’s trading. So it was alleged that while he was at the other agency, he was working on a small bank that was going to be acquired by Wells Fargo. He called his father; hey dad. The father Thank you son, opened a separate account, bought the stock of that small bank and when the merger was announced the stock price went up and then he sold them. He aligned all the red flags for the SEC to find him.

So the question was what do we do? Ethics often starts with [the question] what should we do; what should I do? So we had a meeting of the executive committee and went around the table and the reactions were: he has to go. Ruder-Finn is dedicated and takes ethics seriously. We can’t have someone among our staff that did this. Others said I don’t trust him; if he did that, maybe we should close our door when he’s around. Then came David’s turn. He said no; number one it’s not right to let someone go because it makes you look better. Number two, he said Larry’s under a lot of stress because of what happened; the media; the legal fees; it wouldn’t be right to take his job away from him now and add an extra burden. Number three, and this is what surprised me the most, he said what about the concept of forgiveness. Now you’re chairman of a large company that has over five hundred employees and millions in billing, and you talk about the concept of forgiveness.

Interviewer: What would be your greatest accomplishment? What can you tell us about? What’s the story that you’re most proud of?

Tchividjian: I can tell you a story about a mistake. We learn from our mistakes. The mistake lead me to offer my resignation to Ruder-Finn. I was turned down. This is the story. It was during the Swiss bank and the Holocaust period. The government of Switzerland was a client. There was a conference in London on Nazi gold and during the war, as you know the Germans looted all the central banks and took gold from those banks and when the war was lost, to them some gold was found and redistributed to two different countries proportionately to what had been taken. There was a commission called the Tripartite Commission that was dealing with the gold issue but fifty years later there was still two or three million worth of gold left undistributed. The question was what should we do about it? So the Prime Minister of Foreign Affairs in London and invited governments—everyone—for this conference. The Swiss didn’t want to go and we said you have to go. If you’re not there and you’re absent it’s not good for you. It means that you’re guilty and guilty by your absence. You have to be there. So they said OK; what do you suggest? So we said OK, we would suggest an event at the Swiss Embassy and we’re going to invite the media and we’re going to invite a historian-rabbi to speak about what happened and about some of the good things the Swiss had done and were doing. They said, well if you can get twenty journalists, we’d consider it a success.

So we got ready and I recommended a very good friend of mine who was a professor at Boston University and was also a Rabbi, he’s a historian, to be the speaker, and he was a great speaker. His name is Hillel Levine. So the firm was discussing him or maybe another and they finally said OK, let’s go with Hillel. So we had the event; the place is packed. We had over sixty journalists, I think: the BBC, the Herald Tribune, the London Times; the event went very well. But just before the professor started to speak, he was supposed to speak for forty-five minutes and he was told, “no you can speak for twenty.” So they cut his time in half. So he makes his speech; very good. Then when he comes to the end, he says one of the lessons in all of this is it really matters who our money comes from. Switzerland should stop to allow dictators their countries and then put their assets in the Swiss bank and the Swiss bank should stop funding the drug world because we have young people dying in our streets. So we are doing this at the ambassador’s residence—him in the room with the world media. So the client was not happy. He called me when I was still at the Embassy and he said where is he? I said he’s downstairs in the lobby. He said what is he doing? I said he’s talking to journalists. He said get him out of there. So I called, there was a time [difference], I wanted to be the first to tell Mr. Finn what had happened. He said why did he say that? He said if the press doesn’t pick it up, the Ambassador will be fine; we’ll come down and everything will be fine.

The next day, front page of the newspaper: Our hats to Switzerland and the Swiss government be able to organize such a big event with a Rabbi and there was also Israel Singer, who was from the World Jewish Congress and just not a word about his last couple sentences. The client was still not happy. My friend wrote an apology, a letter of apology and I brought it to the Ambassador and I never heard a man bark, but I think I did that time. Then when I went back to New York a couple of weeks later, I saw a letter from the Ambassador talking about the disaster of London and I thought, you know, I just joined the firm; I didn’t bring any big clients, and now I’m about to cause them to lose an important client, so maybe I should resign. So I went to Mr. Finn and said Sir, if my resignation helps in the relationship with the client, you have it. He said no. He said number one, you’re never responsible for what another one says. Number two, you’re a good man; we don’t want to let you go. And he said number three Hillel is a good man. It’s just that the Swiss are difficult. So that was my resignation turned down.

Interviewer: What did you learn from that?

Tchividjian: What did I learn from that? It was an accident. In fact, he was right and the government has changed now. The Swiss banks have changed their laws and they are much more careful to who comes in and where the money comes from. It’s quasi-impossible to open a bank account in Switzerland now unless you can prove the origin of the money, how you got it, documents to prove it, just to make sure that the money is not dirty money. So he was right, but it was not the right time or the right place. I think my friend felt pretty bad; I don’t think he did it intentionally.