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Going against the grain

Going against the grain interview image

In a series of interviews with some of the top GCs across the US, fivehundred provides insights into the priorities and motivations of the influential in-house lawyers who are included in The Legal 500’s 2019 United States GC Powerlist For this month’s interview, Helen Donegan (US Editor (content)) spoke with Charles Broll (executive vice president and general counsel at Nestlé Waters North America) who shares his views on what matters most to him in his work and in the people he works with, and he reveals what he believes his career highlights will be.

Helen Donegan: To start off, can you tell me about your role?

Charles Broll: I am the General Counsel of Nestlé Waters North America. We are a subsidiary of Nestlé and a part of a much larger Nestlé business around the globe and our products include Perrier, San Pellegrino, and Poland Spring. My responsibility is for all legal matters in the US and Canada. I also have other functions that report into me; regulatory, government affairs, real estate, and facilities. From a legal perspective I am responsible for all legal and compliance matters related to our approximately $5bn per year business in the US and Canada.

HD: Your profile in the 2019 US GC Powerlist notes that you have international experience having worked in various cities around the globe in your roles to date. Do you think your international experience has influenced you in your work?

CB: Absolutely. It gives you different perspective, and gives you the ability to work in different environments, with different stakeholders, and with different risk profiles. It definitely helped me understand the various audiences I am working with and how to ensure the messages I am delivering resonate with different people. There is an accepted way of working in the United States for how lawyers work with their stakeholders, and trying to operate the exact same way in the UK or Asia, for example, would not work. I think operating in different jurisdictions helped me to be able to flex my style of operating.

I have done my career in reverse; I am an American lawyer, but I spent much of my early career overseas and then I came back here to the US. I actually think that has been very helpful to me. That is, to be able to see how things work and are perceived in the rest of the world, and then to be able to come back here and apply that lens in the United States and to our business here.

HD: The GC Powerlist notes that although you have led a number of leading transactions and litigations, you prefer ‘to be recognised for building and growing diverse talent and taking a lead role in diversity and inclusion activities’. Why is this?

CB: Everyone is different in terms of what they derive joy from or what they see as highlights when they look back on their career. I have certainly had my share of big transactions that I have worked on throughout my career, and high risk or difficult legal and compliance challenges to overcome, and that is certainly exciting and something I will look back on with pride. But I think equally as important and sometimes more important is the fact that [I was] able to develop a team, develop talent, and develop diversity in the broadest sense. I see people I brought into an organisation and developed who now develop their own careers and grow into bigger roles. That has brought me a lot of enjoyment and I continue to mentor some of these people. I find a lot of enjoyment in seeing what small role I could play in developing their careers –just as others have played a role in developing mine. It’s an important role to take on, and as you get more senior in your career you have an important role to take on to ready the next generation of people for this profession.

HD: Focusing on the diversity and inclusion (D&I) aspect of the GC Powerlist quote, are there specific activities you get involved in related to D&I?

CB: We have formal and informal mentoring, and formal and informal diversity activities as an enterprise. I see my role as being involved in both. Sometimes it is even more important, if there is not a formal process involved, to seek out those gaps. There is an executive women’s network here at Nestlé and I showed up [to an event]. Obviously I am not a woman, but I wanted to show up in support of their efforts. I didn’t know how that would be received but it went very well. I had people thanking me for being there and for showing my support.

Likewise, before Nestlé formally entered into the Pride parade, we had an informal group of employees in New York City that walked in the parade. I showed up one year and walked with them. I think those are the types of informal forms of support that people in my role can exercise by carving out the time during off time, weekends, whenever it is, to share support for different forms of diversity and inclusion. It doesn’t always have to be a formal process. We have plenty of those and we have affinity groups and other D&I programmes that any company employee can take part in (and I do), but there are many different ways to provide support.

HD: Focusing a bit on your team at Nestlé, you have grown the team and built new roles into it that hadn’t existed previously. Can you talk a bit about what these are, and why you included them?

CB: I came into the role and was given licence by our CEO to build a team over time while showing value. It wasn’t as if I was told, ‘here’s ten headcount, go’, I had to show why certain roles could come into the company rather than always relying on external counsel, and I had to show why it would be valuable to have [those roles]. Early on, one of the gaps we had both as a company and as a legal function was that no one on our team focused on digital and social media. So I brought in a lawyer who was early on in his career and who was certainly more digitally savvy than some of us older attorneys, and I gave him a role focused on digital and social media marketing and more specifically on the challenges, risks, and opportunities that come along with marketing your products digitally and through social media. That was the first time within Nestlé (that I’m aware of) that there was a role truly focused on that. There are marketing teams of course, but they were not focused on the same thing. There are now many roles in Nestlé that have it either as part of their role or which are solely focused on it.

Likewise, we have a focus in our business on sustainability and we were, earlier than many other parts of Nestlé, both challenged by and saw opportunities in sustainability. So I brought in an attorney whose title had ‘sustainability’ in it and she was the first attorney in Nestlé to have that in their title. Again, there are now more attorneys in Nestlé that have that title, including one who operates globally and is based in Switzerland. Those were a few of the areas that we saw opportunities in and could provide focus on, and I saw them as areas evolving in the legal space that the business needed assistance with to navigate.

HD: So the legal team, and the company overall, are open to non-traditional roles, identifying what is needed, and creating something new from that?

CB: I think that is where we have been able to show value. Usually in setting up a traditional legal function you look at tying people to business units or areas of expertise labour and employment, litigation etc. but somewhere in between there are things everyone is doing a piece of, or things that are being completely outsourced to outside counsel. So looking for where those gaps exist and creating somebody who is your single point of contact (and somebody who is ultimately accountable and responsible for a certain space) has been something we have looked to do as we see opportunities.

HD: A question on the law firms you work with. When you are looking for external counsel, what would you say the most important thing is for you in selecting law firms?

CB: I have a bit of a history of going against the grain with some of my GC counterparts. I was at a conference a few years ago and the topic was whether or not to pay for junior associates. Many of the GCs said they do not pay for anyone more junior than a third or fourth year as they don’t add value. I took the contrary view which was that I appreciate junior lawyers and the fact that the good ones particularly will be the partners of the future that our companies will rely on. We appreciate having long-term relationships with law firms. When I joined Nestlé my predecessor was retiring and I was taking on a group of law firms who also had partners who were getting ready to retire. So, what I said to them was that I wanted to see the bench and not just the next partner up, or just the associates, but the junior associates too. I have been here nine years now and those junior associates are now junior partners. For me, seeing the bench and the continuity, and the ability (or not) for some law firms to be able to transition a long-term knowledge base from one partner to the next, or from one group of lawyers to the next as they retire, has been hugely important.

Some law firms have done it very well, and some have struggled because a partner who was retiring did not want to transfer knowledge to others. That has been a big issue for me in terms of looking at law firms, assessing them, and understanding how they develop quality lawyers and how they share knowledge. I am willing to pay for junior lawyers to train them. I find that not only important to them but to us as there is a value to us over time when they know our business and understand how we operate. In the long run it saves us by having continuity through the development of junior lawyers.

HD: Is there anything else you look for in the firms you select or which affects your relationship with them?

CB: We have engagement with a number of law firms interested in working with us on community-based projects, which is important to us. Nestlé supports us getting involved in things that would be helpful to individuals, to the community, and to the planet. That is part of our mission. We have a volunteer day that’s called ‘Nestlé Cares Day’ and my entire team have taken part every year. Nestlé also has something called ‘Project Opportunity’ in the United States that looks at how to get involved in your community to support kids, to support veterans, and to support broader groups with needs, and my team have jumped in with both feet to get involved. I have empowered my legal team to not only find ways to develop themselves here, but also to get involved in their communities at large. We call it ‘Leading beyond our walls’. We want them to develop their skills in any way they can and to get involved in their communities. So, if that means getting involved in a pro-bono activity, a charitable activity, or sitting on a board of a non-profit organisation, I’m all for it.

This transfers to the firms we work with. We have found that law firms have been very willing to work with us on that. For example, I got involved with a law firm to represent veterans who are not getting the benefits they have earned, and we enter into appeals on their behalf before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. I partner with the law firm and think it is good for me to lead by example in doing that. I am not just telling [my team] to do something; I am doing it as well. I have members of my team who have been on the boards of Stamford Next, the Burke Rehabilitation Hospital, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, the Stepping Stones Museum for Children, and other groups. There are a wide array of different opportunities out there and we very much appreciate law firms showing us the opportunities they have developed with their lawyers that we can also get involved in.

HD: It’s clear that developing talent is important for both you and the wider Nestlé organisation. Any final comments on this?

CB: Developing others and seeing them move on to larger roles within Nestlé and in other organisations even though you would like to see them grow within your organisation you recognise this isn’t always possible these are the types of things that I get a lot of joy out of. I have played a very small part in progressing [other people’s] careers. Someday, when I retire, I will look back at the multi-billion dollar deals or the litigation defences, and I will be proud. But I think seeing the people I have worked with and how they have developed –and hopefully taken even a small piece of what I have tried to instil in them and have grown their own careers from that is probably the best satisfaction I can get.

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