Ask Forrest Deegan about his career path and he’ll be perfectly blunt: “I was luckier than I was good, especially at the beginning.”
He’s humble, yes, but that’s part of what inspires him to help others. “A lot of success in life depends on your outlook and learning to recognize challenges as opportunities,” he says.
Deegan spent nine years at Arnold & Porter before joining Abercrombie & Fitch Co. in 2012 as its first director of compliance. He now serves as A&F Co.’s first chief ethics and compliance officer, responsible for enhancing A&F Co.’s Corporate Compliance program. Today, in an effort to ensure others have the tools they need, he teaches high school and college students about his job and the importance of ethics and compliance principles in the workplace.
“Compliance wasn’t taught when I was in law school, but it has become increasingly significant in all types of businesses,” he explains.
To help prepare the next generation of compliance attorneys, Deegan has lectured in law school classes at the University of Texas, the Ohio State University, and Duke University—and he will soon start his second year teaching a full compliance course at the University of Chicago Law School. In describing the course, he explains, “Students have a hunger for practical guidance. I pull instances from the headlines about data breaches, bribery cases, whistleblowers, and show how all of these relate to both the ‘have tos’ and the ‘want tos’ the companies abide by.”
He stresses that it’s not just about learning hundreds of rules and regulations that may guide a particular industry, but about “understanding your role as an agent of your company, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, and raising your hand whenever something seems off.”
Deegan is also involved in A&F Co.’s internship program, creating a special track for law students in the compliance department. “Because we work so closely with the business, I want individuals to have work and/or military experience, so they know how to assess risks and solve problems and are familiar with the types of issues that are likely to come up on the job,” he says.
He takes these lessons to high school students, too. “My cousin directs the marketing and hospitality/tourism program at East Career and Technical Academy,” Deegan says. “The majority of the students are Hispanic, and the vast majority qualify for lunch assistance. Yet this program is ranked as one of the top public magnet high schools in the country. This school changes kids’ lives.”
“Students have a hunger for practical guidance. [It’s about] understanding your role as an agent of your company, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, and raising your hand whenever something seems off.”
Giving back is also a key pillar at A&F Co., whether through volunteerism, monetary, or in-kind donations. As part of that commitment to have a positive impact on the communities, a number of Home Office and Stores associates have joined Deegan in his volunteer efforts: providing mock interviews, resume reviews, and guest lectures.
“The more professionals go into schools and show students what we do on a day-to-day basis, the more prepared they’ll be to make the right career decisions,” he says.
Photo: courtesy of Abercrombie & Fitch Co.