Welcome to Six Questions with an Ethics & Compliance Officer, a new interview series created in conjunction with National Compliance Officer Day. Each post will shine the spotlight on a different member of the E&C community, from established CCOs and CECOs with years of experience to rising stars with a passion for ethical behavior. 

Q: How long have you been working in ethics and compliance? 

I have over 12 years of legal experience, with 10 of those years in an ethics and compliance role. I started as an in-house counsel for an advisory and research company in Europe and then moved into hospitality, financial, insurance, and accounting industries. A few years ago, I found my place at a U.S. government contractor.

Q: What did you want to be when you were growing up? 

Until my last year of high school, I wanted to be a doctor. I had a passion for biology and chemistry which, as you can imagine, did not help much in law school.

Q: What are some of the most rewarding and challenging parts of your job?

Getting exposure to different points of views and ideas while interacting with employees is probably my favorite part of my job. I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career to have always worked with excellent teams led by great leaders. I have also enjoyed staying on top of changing laws and regulations by continuing to research and learn.

At times, it has been challenging to convince others that compliance is your friend, not the enemy.

Q: What are three important traits a Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer should possess? 

  1. Being flexible and adaptable to the situation. We should not impede business but rather enable it.
  2. Integrity.
  3. Charisma. It is easier to execute policies, training, and controls when people believe in you and are willing to listen and follow you.

Q: If someone wanted to get more involved in promoting ethical behavior in their organization today, what could they do? 

Start with leading by example. Contact your compliance officer and offer help. Compliance departments almost always are understaffed, so your offer will be greatly appreciated.

Q: What advice would you give to recent college graduates and other professionals who may want to pursue a career in ethics and compliance?

Each industry sector is a little different, and each company approaches ethics and compliance differently. To stay fresh in the ever-changing world of ethics and compliance, be prepared to do a bit of self-research and learning and be willing to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.

Staying ahead of change is the key to a long and successful career in the field. And remember it is always acceptable to say “I do not know, but I will find out” as we cannot be subject matter experts on all topics.


Joanna Lessman is the Deputy Ethics and Compliance Officer for Noblis, a nonprofit science, technology, and strategy company that brings the best of scientific thought, management, and engineering expertise with a reputation for independence and objectivity. Before joining Noblis in 2017, Joanna was a member of the Ethics & Compliance Department at the Bechtel Corporation. Prior to the Bechtel Corporation, she held positions in governance risk and compliance at both PwC and CohnReznick. Joanna is a certified member of the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics, a fellow of the FBI Corporate Compliance Officer Academy, and a fellow of the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund. In addition to these honors, she earned an M.A. in Law from Jagiellonian University of Krakow, Poland and has practiced law in the area of corporate governance, commercial contracting and EU law.