French energy management company Schneider Electric has been on a buying spree lately, most recently with its £3.4bn acquisition of Invensys, completed in 2014. These deals have seen the number of lawyers at the company rise to nearly 300, leading Peter Wexler, Schneider’s US-based group general counsel, to reflect on what it means to lead and train a legal function.
‘One of the key things about leadership is how you develop your talent,’ says Wexler. ‘I want to be around good people and smart people, so I personally interview most if not all who join this department. I tell them this: “If you make a decision and it’s wrong we’ll fix it, and if it’s well-reasoned and in the best interests of the company then I will support you even if it ends up being a catastrophe because I don’t want you to be afraid of making decisions.”‘ Continue reading “Perspectives: Peter Wexler, Schneider Electric”
As GC of Nokia during the complex carve-out and sale of its handsets division to Microsoft, Louise Pentland refined her leadership skills at the sharp end. An early exposure to a formal in-house training programme was, she says, vital preparation for a senior role. ‘I was lucky because I joined Nokia at a very early stage in my career and their internal training is all around being the best you can be, developing networks, and getting results without trampling on people.’
Since that time, says Pentland, a growing skills gap between in-house and private practice has made structured training even more necessary. ‘Companies are more flexible in their understanding of the role of corporate counsel and lawyers are more willing to step across boundaries. It’s a far better situation from a career development and employee retention point of view but it means in-house lawyers need leadership skills and GCs need to ensure staff have those skills.’ Continue reading “Perspectives: Louise Pentland, PayPal”
When Penny Dudley, former legal director of Bupa’s international health insurance division, was asked to move into the chief legal officer role earlier this year, it was an opportunity to reflect on the importance of non-legal skills. ‘We have a strong focus on leadership at Bupa at all senior levels, but it’s a big step when you go from one part of a business to overseeing the entire group. It brought it home that you need to make sure in-house lawyers have these skills at an early stage. It’s a bit late to start investing in leadership once you’ve put someone on the executive committee.’ Continue reading “Perspectives: Penny Dudley, Bupa”
Nokia’s transformation over the last few years has tested the leadership skills of all function heads. In April 2014 it completed the $7.2bn sale of its handsets business to Microsoft, and by January 2016 its $16.6bn acquisition of Alcatel-Lucent was in place, cementing its transition from a large phone producer to an even larger networking and IT business.
In spite of the changes, core elements of Nokia remain in place, including its respected learning and development centre, the Nokia Academy. A group-wide emphasis on training, says Maria Varsellona, who joined Nokia Solutions as general counsel in 2013 and was promoted to chief legal officer of the wider Nokia group a year later, is at the heart of running a successful legal function. Continue reading “Perspectives: Maria Varsellona, Nokia”
Recruited from FTSE 100 company Kingfisher to oversee the legal function at the newly-merged soft drink entity Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP), Clare Wardle has plenty of leadership experience to undertake the challenge of integrating the three legal teams at Coca-Cola Enterprises, Coca-Cola Iberian Partners, and Coca-Cola Erfrischungsgetränke.
Wardle was called to the Bar in 1984 and moved to Lovells in 1986 where she worked for ten years before moving in-house – first at the Post Office, where she served as head of legal, before working as general counsel (GC) and company secretary at Tube Lines. She joined British retailer Kingfisher in 2010 as group legal director, taking over as group GC in 2012 where she became responsible for risk, governance, competition and compliance matters. Now based in Uxbridge, Wardle serves as a member of the executive leadership team at CCEP, reporting to chief executive John Brock and serving as legal adviser to company chair Sol Daurella. Continue reading “Perspectives: Clare Wardle, Coca-Cola European Partners”
‘The leadership aspect of my role has definitely increased as the company has grown,’ notes Sabine Chalmers, Anheuser-Busch InBev’s chief legal and corporate affairs officer. Following AB InBev’s $104bn acquisition of SABMiller, this is putting it mildly. Mega-deals aside, the need for leadership skills has also come with the broadening of the legal function at large corporations. ‘When I first started I was just responsible for legal. Since then I have taken on corporate affairs, communications, regulation, sustainability and corporate and social responsibility. Handling all that puts a big focus on leadership.’
Early in her career, Chalmers was given an enduring piece of advice by a chief executive. ‘If you want to spot a leader look for three things: judgement, influence and drive.’ It is a benchmark she has continued to use in measuring both her own progress and the potential of her team to step into more senior roles. ‘As a GC you are expected to get the law right and advise appropriately, but the big differentiator is the judgement you apply to that. If you don’t have the influence or the drive to take your judgements through to conclusion there’s no point in having the job of general counsel.’ Continue reading “Perspectives: Sabine Chalmers, Anheuser-Busch InBev”
‘There are all sorts of platitudes about leadership,’ says Albert Wang, general counsel (GC) for Asia-Pacific at 3M. ‘You hear them all the time: walk the talk, lead from the front, lead with integrity, and be authentic. They’re platitudes, but that doesn’t mean they’re not true. When I think about the leaders that have inspired me, all of those qualities resonate.’
Another platitude GCs slip into when discussing leadership is ‘talking the language of business’. This strikes a chord with the Shanghai-based Wang. ‘We have a very engineering and science-focused culture, and engineers talk in data. We used to see PowerPoint presentations that ran to hundreds of slides with overflow of information. There is now a trend to strip that detail out and simplify it into pictures or ideas or to develop a dialogue rather than a one-way presentation. It’s not about being updated, it’s about identifying problems and working out how the business can solve them. That, in essence, is talking the language of business.’ Continue reading “Perspectives: Albert Wang, 3M”
‘In the legal profession people don’t always let go quickly enough. That mentality can be destructive if it gets carried in-house,’ says Suzanne Wise, group general counsel (GC) and company secretary of Network Rail, the public body that owns and maintains the bulk of the UK’s railway infrastructure. For Wise, learning to let go is one of the distinguishing features of a successful GC.
‘You don’t get into the technical details of your function at a very senior level because discussions tend to be much more focused on the business as a whole, and the expectation is that you will take full part in those discussions. Communicating and influencing skills are very important if you want to move into a senior position in-house because an awful lot of what you find yourself doing is not legal work.’ Continue reading “Perspectives: Suzanne Wise, Network Rail”