The multi-day press inferno around Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s appearance (or non-appearance) in a racist photo published on the personal page of his medical school yearbook has stimulated a series of articles on backgrounding executive level hires and celebrities. The general advice from the professionals quoted in this most recent round of “be prepared” articles is thoughtful but not necessarily specific. So, what is the appropriate level of diligence that a company hiring a new CEO or a product looking for a new celebrity partner should exercise?
The answer to this question will vary depending upon the context in which the background research is being conducted but here are some questions to think about when deciding how wide to cast the net:
What has been published about this individual in local, state, or national news sources?
What have they self published (i.e., on social media in the social media age and prior to that offline) and what types of things are they re-publishing online?
Has this person ever been named in any civil or criminal litigation? What about traffic violations, or proceedings in family or probate courts?
Has this individual ever filed for bankruptcy, or been named as a creditor in another bankruptcy filing?
Have any liens or judgments been filed against this person?
Where does this person own property? Do they claim any properties as their primary residence? Is there any history of delinquent property taxes?
Is this person registered to vote? In what counties have they been registered? When did they first register in the county? If so, have they registered as a member of any particular party, and which elections have they participated in while registered?
What kind of contributions has this individual made to political candidates or committees, if any?
What elements of this person’s career or profession are publicly knowable? Is there any licensure or certification involved with their work?
Are this person’s educational claims verifiable?
There are many more questions that can be framed using the background of specific E-suite hires or celebrities but this is a sound list to start with and from this point you can tailor your research efforts to fit available resources (both time and money.)