Article

How Will You Become Integral to Your CEO and Board?

20 Aug 2019

Chances are pressure on your CEO and board is more intense than ever. They are likely confronting myriad challenges, including activist investors, cybersecurity threats, disruptive technology, and privacy regulations. 

Running a company has never been more complex or fraught with risk. A company’s reputation, which can take decades to build, can be significantly damaged or destroyed in a matter of days. At the same time, opportunities for the quick-witted and bold abound.

This current environment offers opportunities for GCs to demonstrate leadership and add value to the CEO and board. With their ability to draw on legal and ethics training in the context of commercial pursuits, GCs are well positioned to be the company’s conscience, providing the guardrails for growth. As the speed and complexity of the business and the regulatory landscape increase, GCs will encounter even more opportunities to influence the C-suite. 

Grab your seat at the table

We have discovered a hunger among GCs to be significant business shapers. In our global research survey, “THE GC {RE}DEFINED”: In the Face of Complexity and Change, the Time to Lead Is Now,” 81 percent of respondents said that they view membership on an executive committee as crucial to having influence on their CEO and board. They want to support, drive, and challenge the board.

Aminata Kaké, General Counsel and Secretary General for the real estate investment trust Befimmo SA, is one example. Kaké, who also serves as Befimmo’s Chief Compliance Officer, sits on the executive management committee—a position she views as essential to carrying out her responsibilities.

“The GC should be the right hand of the CEO and have the trust of the chairman,” she says. “If you are not, you’ll have no impact, and you won’t be able to do your job properly. That’s the way I view my function.”

Know what matters most in the boardroom

It’s interesting to see the differing views GCs have as to what will position and enable them to become integral to the board, and therefore, the business.

In our research, we asked GCs to rank skills that will be crucial for the future. While legal skills and judgment ranked highest, GCs acknowledge that they need to contribute heavily by drawing on problem solving and creative thinking. They also realize that they must deploy these skills with a heavy dose of emotional intelligence and stakeholder management, or the impact will not be maximized.

Trust at the highest level is essential and needs to be earned. Perhaps it’s an obvious point, but a deep understanding of the business is, and will continue to be, required of future GCs as one of the best ways to earn the trust and ear of senior executives.

 “By doing so, you elevate yourself from being regarded as just a lawyer to becoming another business leader,” says Helen Hayes, Uber’s Legal Director for Northern & Eastern Europe. “By not doing so, your value is limited to legal analysis.”

Maria Green, former General Counsel of Ingersoll Rand who is now an independent director of Tennant Company and Wisconsin Energy Corporation, concurs: “My experience is that if a CEO sees that a GC is smart and knows the business, then that’s one more person for the CEO to use as a sounding board on the constraints and the opportunities that lie ahead for the business.”

Is your role being redefined?

A GC’s positive impact and influence on an organization is essential. Non-legal skills are becoming increasingly important to the role of the GC every day. Ten years from now, which skills will be valued most in your role? How do you plan on becoming more valuable to your CEO and board? 

This post is part of a thought leadership series, “The GC {Re}Defined,” which explores how technology is reshaping the role of the GC.

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