How Steady Leadership Can Help Navigate Any Rocky Litigation

How Steady Leadership Can Help Navigate Any Rocky Litigation

Eric Schwimmer shares that by having high expectations, Prudential Financial is able to answer any challenge

Thanks to its distinctive logo, Prudential Financial has long been known as “The Rock” to its customers. The reason the company has remained so stable, according to Chief Litigation Officer Eric Schwimmer, is strong leadership. He should know: Schwimmer provides the type of rock-solid leadership that has helped the company maintain its sterling reputation.

For almost twenty-five years, Schwimmer has helped guide Prudential Financial through legal challenges, developing a management style that mirrors the company’s core values.

Schwimmer began his career at Prudential in 1994 in the employment law unit of Prudential Securities—at that time, a subsidiary of Prudential Insurance. In 2000, prior to becoming a public company, Schwimmer became Prudential’s chief employment attorney, managing employment and labor attorneys. A few years later, his responsibilities expanded to include management of lawyers in ERISA/Benefits, and also in operations and systems.

BUILDING AN ENTERPRISE

In 2011, as a part of Prudential Financial’s ongoing effort to enhance its management and oversight, the enterprise litigation group was created, and Schwimmer was named chief litigation officer. Before 2011, litigation was handled in a more decentralized fashion, but Ann Kappler—the company’s chief legal officer, corporate services—decided that all litigation impacting the company should be handled through one central unit.

Prudential Financial, Schwimmer says, has seen nothing but positive results following the change.

“I have nine litigators in my group and each lawyer has one or more business groups to handle,” Schwimmer says. “By focusing on just one or two businesses, they could become much more intimate with the products, the people, the distribution channels, the management involved and their goals, risk tolerance—and use all of that knowledge to make their litigation advice much more focused.”

This centralization provided a level of consistency in tracking litigation and in managing outside counsel. In addition, Schwimmer says it became much easier to pursue the company’s diversity goals. Prudential Financial has won a slew of diversity awards, including those in categories of veterans/military, people with disabilities, women, and LGBT.

Another advantage that resulted was an improvement in the way the company tracked litigation.

Top Scores

  • #1 Ranking on Forbes’ list of World’s Most Admired companies in 2016
  • 2015 World’s Most Ethical Company by Ethisphere Institute

“We needed to do a better job of identifying litigations over time and reaching certain conclusions regarding what types of risks were being presented and how we could address and attack problems more aggressively,” he says.

Litigation was nothing new to the executive, as Schwimmer had practical litigation experience from the two law firms for which he worked prior to joining Prudential Financial.

“Litigation is similar to a lot of areas in the law department in which you are conducting risk assessments and managing that risk,” he says. “I’d just finished handling a large multiyear project involving unclaimed property, and I had experience through that project dealing with a wider spectrum of people, which gave me greater insight into how the company operates.”

NO COUNTRY FOR BIG EGOS

Part of Prudential Financial’s glowing reputation is based on how the company treats its employees. The company has received numerous international accolades, including “The 100 Best Companies to Work For,” and Schwimmer’s management style is in line with those core values. He understands the importance of being the type of leader that employees trust and respect.

“We attract and develop a diverse group of talented individuals, and once we’ve done that, we provide them with opportunities to grow,” he says, and adds that he’s fortunate to have a great team that supports each member.

Part of that team support, and something that Schwimmer firmly believes in, is feedback—he provides it and also expects to receive it in return.

“I have very high expectations of myself and others, but I’m clear regarding expectations so people know how they’re being assessed and they know what they need to do to succeed.”

Much of this success lies in early identification of the attributes that employees need to embrace and exhibit if they want to succeed at Prudential Financial in general, and on Schwimmer’s team specifically. “We have a certain culture,” he says. “‘No drama and small egos.’”

Although it’s one thing for the company to hire smart people, it’s another  still for those people to get along with and respect the opinions of others while accomplishing their goals. Schwimmer says they also have to know how to accommodate clients.

“It’s important to learn how to really listen to others and be flexible depending on the reception,” Schwimmer says, and adds that his team members must understand how to adjust and adapt their approach if they don’t feel that their message is being heard. “There’s not just one approach, and they must be comfortable shifting gears.”

This is the crux of the “no drama and small egos” motto. When lawyers are delivering advice, their clients have the right to challenge them. Instead of getting bent out of shape, Schwimmer says lawyers should come prepared with different options and develop a comfort level with being challenged, since that’s a part of the job.

BALANCING THE FUTURE

A healthy work/life balance is also important to Prudential Financial. The company provides work/life programs and a supportive work climate. Childcare and parenting resources include back-up childcare and adult care, childcare discounts, after school programs, and college scholarships. There is also a generous twenty-six-week parental leave of absence program in addition to a liberal leave of absence and medical leave of absence program.

Schwimmer understands that his employees have personal matters that they need to take care of, and loved ones that they must tend to. If employees don’t have the opportunity to take care of those matters, he says, they’re not going to be focused when they come to work. As such, a flexible work environment is in the best interests of the employees and the company.

Prudential Financial provides a variety of alternative work environments, including telecommuting and flextime. Compressed workweeks are another option for employees, and they can also work part-time.

“You may have one lawyer with fifty or sixty cases, and they have to know how to prioritize because a day may start one way and end totally different,” Schwimmer says. Of course, the day rarely goes as planned. “Being in-house provides more flexibility in work style, so you decide when you need to go home, but you have to be a really good communicator and you need to build trust and relationships.” A lawyer with good communication, he says, provides progress updates to help people understand their process and work style.

Over the years, Schwimmer developed a flexible management style of his own. “I’ve learned to adapt to different types of people and they don’t have to conform to one style,” he says. Part of his management style is giving people freedom and trusting that they will approach their jobs as professionals and figure out how they’re most effective.

“As long as they can do their jobs, I don’t care how [they do it],” he says.

Regarding his plans for the future, it sounds as though he intends to stay the course.

“I really enjoy the challenge and helping to transform the company,” Schwimmer says.