Peter Solmssen, GC of Siemens
Peter Solmssen, GC of Siemens

While Wal-Mart Stores Inc. made big headlines last week when it came to light that executives at its Mexican subsidiary, Wal-Mart de Mexico, may have engaged in rampant bribery, the big-box retailer was far from the first large company to be thrown into the middle of this type of scandal.

In 2007, the Germany-based international technology company Siemens discovered bribery may have been taking place among its sales force, which was accused of shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars to secure contracts from large companies and governments around the world. The company confronted the matter head-on—hiring an outside law firm to conduct a thorough investigation, which uncovered widespread corruption.

This morning, NPR’s Steve Inskeep talked to Peter Solmssen, general counsel and member of the managing board of Siemens, about how the company was able to clean up the mess.

According to the report, Siemens’ first step was to offer amnesty to any employee involved. “We said, ‘If you come in and tell us the whole story, we will not fire you, we will not punish you, and we will try to help you with the authorities,’” Solmssen explained. And that worked. About 130 came forward to disclose their role in the corruption. Those who didn’t, and were caught, were ultimately fired and prosecuted.

During the interview, Solmssen said at that time bribery was part of the business model at Siemens, and Inskeep asked if it was difficult to change that culture. “Actually not,” Solmssen responded. “It’s not that hard because the employees really respond to this message. They want to do things right. Bribery, corruption is a form of theft and it’s not really accepted anywhere. And our employees are thrilled to not be a part of the problem and to be a part of the solution.”

Listen to the entire NPR interview with Peter Solmssen.