Little Connections Make a Big Difference

When working for a global company, getting employees on the same page is important in every department. Mark Weiss has cultivated an international perspective at Staples, where the little connections are making a big difference.

Modern Counsel: Your current role requires you to have an international perspective. How did you develop this?

Mark Weiss: I worked on M&A deals in Europe and Australia before I assumed my current position at Staples. I’ve worked with many people in different regions on complex matters over many years, and I’ve learned that everyone operates differently. There are nuances in how to motivate people, questions to ask, or how to get to the root of any problem. I learned so much more in the first year of my current job than I had in my previous 13 years at Staples. I understood the business by then, but I had to learn a lot about leadership. I met with people personally and spent time in each jurisdiction in my first six months in this job. It was a lot of traveling, but I got to interact with so many people. I’m always learning, frankly.

MC: That perspective has helped you become the lead on the international training program. What does that program entail?

MW: It’s about creating one globally integrated legal team. I wanted to use my knowledge of Staples to build one team that works together across different regions. We bring lawyers from every jurisdiction to our Boston headquarters each year, and I travel often to see the different groups in person. When we bring people here, we offer training, networking, and an exchange of cultures. It really opens up communication.

MC: What kinds of benefits does this create for the company?

MW: By spending time at headquarters, they understand the perspective of the people working there and become ambassadors for us in their home offices. And corporate learns their perspectives. That helps us develop relationships, so we function as one global company. Those little connections make a huge difference.

MC: When you first joined Staples, what did you need to learn?

MW: There were three main things. First, I needed to truly understand the business. In the law firm, I thought I understood my clients’ businesses, and I did to an extent. But it’s so much more involved in-house, and it’s constant. Second, I had to understand that an in-house lawyer is a businessperson with a law degree. I wore a legal hat on some issues, but I also had to balance business risks. I’ve always enjoyed business, and I had to make myself a valuable partner. Finally, I had to understand that you can’t do everything perfectly. In a law firm, there’s a certain standard—perfection—about how things will be written and presented. That’s still important, but each day in a corporate legal department is like triage. Some things require 100 percent of your attention, and you can’t make a single mistake. Other things aren’t as important and don’t require that same level of detail. You have to know how to prioritize.

MC: You previously worked at Goodwin Procter, one of the nation’s leading law firms. Why did you come to Staples?

MW: I joined in 1999, and the business is much different today. Back then, Staples was a hot company. It was growing and in very high demand, and there was a push to expand internationally. Staples had just expanded in Europe, acquired some US companies, and launched Staples.com. In the law firm, I had done everything from IPO launches to buying interest, and I was excited to do things like that at a growing company, where I’d be an integral part of the business.

MC: Was there anything that surprised you about working in-house?

MW: I worked harder than I did at the law firm—some people think in-house is a cushy job, but it’s not. It’s very hard for the first few years, and the workload spikes and dips, but my quality of life was better. I was able to control my schedule, and I enjoyed my work much more.

MC: What have you found to be the most rewarding part of your work?

MW: The people. I like enabling our people to succeed and working with people outside of the company, too. Client relationships are hugely rewarding, but they take a lot of work. I enjoy leveraging my knowledge to help our business succeed internationally. I feel like I can do that after so many years there.

MC: What presents the most challenges?

MW: Time. Managing time, finding time to talk to everyone across different time zones. My team works six days per week, on call 24 hours because we talk to our groups abroad so often. I feel like I’m always working though there’s one crossover day that we all don’t have to work. Time is precious and short, and I always need to be available. Sometimes I’ll do calls to China at 10 or 11 p.m. my time because I want to be respectful of their schedule, but that means some days are very long.

MC: What is one thing people should know about Staples’ legal department?

MW: Staples’ slogan is “Make more happen.” And we work very hard to do that. The legal department makes more happen around the world. We’re globally integrated, highly engaged, and commercially oriented. We want to be trusted business advisers. The legal team serves as a model for every department in the business. We can always get better, of course, but we’ve established a world-class team.