On May 21, the Asian American Bar Association of New York (“AABANY”) presented its “Fortune 500 General Counsel Panel: Leadership During Crisis,” part three of NAPABA’s General Counsel Webinar Series. The event highlighted prominent General Counsels working in various industries and discussed the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace along with advice for aspiring General Counsels. The panelists included Damien Atkins, General Counsel of the Hershey Company; Peter Beshar, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Marsh & McLennan; Elisa Garcia, Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel of Macy’s; David Hyman, General Counsel and Company Secretary of Netflix; Alan Tse, Global Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary of JLL; and David Yawman, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of PepsiCo. The panel discussion was moderated by Michael Wu, Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary of Madewell.
The panel discussed the immediate challenges faced by General Counsels in light of the current pandemic and the transition to an online work environment. Emphasis was placed on adaptability and flexibility as General Counsels and legal departments across all industries have had to quickly put together plans for long-term financing and shifts in day-to-day operations. This emphasis on adaptability also stresses greater cooperation between the legal team, the board of directors, and C-suite executives in forming a coherent strategy in both dealing with the pandemic and also pursuing non-COVID-19 related objectives. As Alan Tse stated, companies are, more than ever, looking toward their legal teams for leadership in navigating through economic uncertainty and changes in corporate governance.
Additionally, the importance of communications and integrating technology into the workplace are vital as General Counsels need to be able to coordinate all the moving parts of the company in making the localized decisions necessary to ensure compliance with local regulations and sustainable growth. While it is important to have contingency plans during times of crisis, General Counsels need to be vigilant and flexible in their approach toward unpredictable and complex problems in the future. Peter Beshar stated that General Counsels should also prioritize “collective cyber resilience, not just of our company, but of broader society” by protecting critical online communication channels. Additionally, General Counsels should form effective response plans to prepare companies from destabilizing cyberattacks.
Recent changes in legislation and the regulatory environment have also driven General Counsels to be more proactive in how they view the relationship between what David Yawman describes as the “great continuum… between the legislative environment and policy issues coming out of societal trends.” Ultimately, General Counsels should recognize that changes in corporate governance are facilitated by both government legislation and company policies and that, as legal professionals, they have a crucial role to play as both a guide for their clients and a trailblazer for corporate policy.
Lastly, the panel discussed efforts to promote diversity within their organizations and the role General Counsels play in ensuring inclusion in the workplace. Inclusion championship should be a fundamental, core value of corporate governance and thus, should be, as David Hyman describes, a “top-down” process embodied by all corporate executives. Individuals and legal teams should be empowered to take initiative in leading pop-up conversations and workshops that champion inclusive leadership that stresses not only diverse participation, but diverse leadership. Companies should also hold individuals accountable and translate inclusion policies into action.
The panel attracted more than 500 registrants, making it the single biggest AABANY Zoom meeting to date. Attendees were eligible to receive 1.0 New York CLE credits, with 0.5 credits fulfilling the Diversity, Inclusion, and Elimination of Bias requirement and 0.5 credits fulfilling the Law Practice Management requirement. We thank Michael Wu for organizing the panel and for moderating a highly informative and substantive discussion. We thank all the speakers for sharing their insights, knowledge and perspectives. The event was covered by Corporate Counsel. Read the article here (Law.com subscription required).