Strong ’89 Leads AOL’s Ethics/Compliance Program
When Kimberly Strong ’89 was first asked in 1998 to explore the creation of a compliance and ethics program for her Virginia employer, expectations varied as to what the task would entail.
“I remember the general counsel coming to me and saying ‘I’m sure it is not going to be very much of your time,’” Strong said with a laugh.
What wasn’t expected to be “very much” time has transformed in to the focus of Strong’s career. Most recently, she is senior vice president, chief ethics & compliance officer for AOL, Inc., the global web services company.
“I really enjoy the work that I am doing,” Strong said. “My undergraduate degree is in communications and my current position allows me to use both that degree and my law degree to help impact the organization and make sure that the organization is supporting the employees and fostering a culture of ethics and compliance.”
Strong joined AOL in August 2003 while the corporation was in the midst of an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice. Since coming on board, Strong has made several positive impacts, including the implementation of the company’s global Standards of Business Conduct program. “AOL employees have been very receptive to the program,” she said. “Employees understand that it is important that the company have a high degree of integrity in order to be successful.”
In 2008, she was named senior vice president for business conduct & compliance at AOL.
Creating a successful corporate compliance program heavily relies upon solid communication to every corner of the company, Strong said. “When you have communicated well what the company is trying to accomplish, people are quite supportive,” she said. “We are consistently reminded of our ethical responsibilities as lawyers. We understand that there is a professional responsibility board that will hold us accountable. These programs are that support within a corporation.”
Prior to attending law school, Strong was working for a U.S. defense contractor. “I went to law school fully intending to go back into the business world,” she said. “I was never really intending to practice law in a traditional way, and so I was quite surprised when I found myself in a courtroom three years out of law school.”
Strong started her legal career as an in-house counsel at the Dayton Power & Light Company in Dayton, Ohio. There she focused on civil litigation. Strong next accepted a position with LCI International, a long-distance telephone provider, which was later purchased by Qwest Communications. It was at LCI and subsequently at Qwest that Strong created and grew the company’s inaugural compliance and ethics program.
“We began an ethics and compliance program at LCI and continued it following the acquisition by Qwest,” Strong said. She also had several other responsibilities with the growing communications company, including handling litigation and labor employment issues and contract negotiations.
In 2000, Qwest Communications purchased U.S. West, the regional Bell operating company, based in Denver, Colorado. The company’s central operations were consolidated in Denver. Strong and her family relocated from the Washington, D.C., area to Denver but later decided to return to the East Coast. It was then that she learned of the job with AOL, and she said that it was an opportunity that she couldn’t resist.
“I just thought what AOL did was fascinating,” said Strong, who again lives outside of Washington, D.C. “It was a whole new industry for me. An industry helping expand the way people communicate around the world, connecting people in a way the telephone and television did in previous generations.”
Strong also said that she finds the work she is doing overwhelmingly rewarding.
“Essentially we focus on giving employees the resources and support to make good decisions on behalf of the company,” she said. “It’s about acting with integrity and doing the right thing even if it is the harder thing to do.”
A Dayton native, Strong and her husband, Tom Burks, have two children, Julia and Nathan, ages 12 and 9, respectively.