The general counsel (GC) occupies a unique role on the fulcrum of risk and opportunity of a business. He or she must protect the brand and, at the same time, help to enhance its value. In order to obtain a fresh perspective on this ever-changing, demanding position, we talked to other corporate leaders about the GC’s role: the messages provide compelling food for thought, and underpin a five-point road map that the GC’s need to cover.
A total of 34 business leaders (including board members, chief executive officers, chairmen, non-executive directors and chairmen of audit committees) from around the world were interviewed with regards to the role of the GC. Since this is the first time corporate leaders from outside the legal function are interviewed, this marks a 180 degree change in perspective.
There has always been tension in the role of the GC between protector and enabler of value. But, as the GC ventures further into the realm of business, it will become harder to maintain this balance while meeting the expectations of the board. The challenge is a matter of degree, requiring GCs to become ever more comfortable with the technical details relevant to their business and industry, as they take on positions of increasing influence, necessitating broad, incisive decision-making.
Given the requirement to concentrate on key details in an increasingly complex business environment, we asked the business leaders to rank the top five risks on which the GC needs to focus: unsurprisingly, regulation is top, but technology-related risks came second, with interviewees pinpointing cyber-related risks and citing technology-related risks more broadly. The threat of cyber-attack has been lurking for a number of years, but is now seen as greater than both litigation and contract risk. Furthermore, the interviewees provided the following three core messages:
Based on the interviews with Chief Executive Officers, board directors and others, we have developed a road map for the new paradigm, which encompasses five main attributes that describe today’s best GCs:
If GCs feel they have the road map covered, the technology mastered and communication down to a fine art, then our research suggests that business leaders believe they are excelling. They are an exemplar of their hugely challenging, but unique, corporate position at the fulcrum of risk and opportunity.