Chris Clancy enjoys being around people. Early in his meeting with Modern Counsel, he lists the concerts he’s attended at Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in Tinley Park, just three miles from Panduit, where he serves as general counsel and vice president of legal.
Until recently, however, the legal department (and even a variety of groups within the legal department) operated in a different building than the rest of the company. Given the importance of connection and communication not only to Clancy, but also to Panduit, that seemed a little strange. Founded in 1955, Panduit is, in Clancy’s words, “a technology-driven manufacturing company” with products that include cabling, connectors, copper wire, fiber-optic components, and other innovations that tie together the computing, power, and security systems of a building or physical location. As a business-to-business organization, Panduit has enabled companies such as Cisco, Apple, and Microsoft to have more effective communication.
But what about the communication between Panduit’s own team members? Once everybody was under the same roof, Clancy made it his responsibility to more effectively integrate legal into the rest of the company.
Was there a turning point when you came to Panduit that you realized the legal department needed to be better integrated into the rest of the company?
The first eye-opener for me was in February of 2014. Most of the company’s functions had moved from one location in Tinley Park to the new headquarters building in March 2010. The legal group, which I’m part of, stayed at the old location to be with the research and development group. At that point, we were in a separate location, but February of 2014 was when we moved to the same building as everybody else.
At that point, I was chief patent counsel—not the general counsel—but it was pretty clear that our group basically didn’t know anybody. We didn’t know any of the other groups, who was running them, or what they were doing. We had been in a silo for so long that we had no idea what was going on in the rest of the company.
That started the transformation in my mind and then it crystallized. I took over in this role in March 2016. In February, we were going through an internal interview process with representative business leaders in the company. It was very clear in the expectations that they all had that integration at the top of everybody’s list.
By November 2016, the entire legal group worked at our headquarters building.
There was also some work to do just within the legal department itself, correct?
Not only was our integration with the rest of the company, but we first had to integrate our legal team. We were two separate legal groups in different locations. We basically had the IP group with research and development. The non-IP attorneys—commercial, employment, pretty much anything else—were in a different location. That was the first part: “We’re all part of the same team even though we may work on different stuff.”
That only led to further segregation from the rest of the company. I found it valuable for us, just since November of last year, to have all our offices and our department together in the same building.
Was relocating to the new building a culture shock? Did legal have to do a lot of readjusting?
We did. We’d go to the cafeteria and have lunch and look around and think, “Who are all of these people?” It was a group of fifteen people in a building of 500, wondering who everybody else is.
What tactics did you use to integrate everybody?
When I started in this role, I scheduled one-on-one meetings with business and functional leaders to really educate them. “Hey, this is what legal can do. This is how we can help you. We’re not here to be the voice of no.”
In addition to that, I think it helps to have a lot of lunch meetings. It’s a little bit more casual of a conversation, and I think you really can have a better exchange. Those are valuable ways for me to sell legal to the rest of the company, as well as be in tune with what’s going on in their groups, or what issues come up that they may need our help with.
It must make employees feel like they can be a little more open with legal.
Especially when you have the preconceived notions of legal. It seems less like an interrogation to them. It’s more like a natural conversation, as opposed to somebody being on the defensive. I’ve noticed that people relax a little bit more. It’s just easier to talk to someone in a more informal setting.
What else have you done to strengthen the relationship between legal and the rest of the company?
This past January, when it was less than two years after we moved into a new space, we moved to a new, more open area in our headquarters building. To celebrate our move, we had an open house for the rest of the people in this building. I think we now have about 600 people. We had an open house for everyone to tour the space, meet everybody, have some snacks and drinks, enter to win a raffle—that type of thing. It was just a couple of hours, and we probably had 150 people stop by. It really helped solidify the message that legal is part of the company and we are here to help.
Another thing is that we started having attorney office hours. On Wednesday afternoons, we have an attorney at our Corporate Research & Development facility. We also have office hours every other Thursday afternoon at another Chicago-area facility. People will know that somebody from our legal group is going to be on-site, and that they can stop in anytime to ask questions.
Since implementing these changes, have you noticed a tangible effect throughout the company?
Definitely. Like any company does, we have different initiatives or areas of focus in a given year. In fact, 2016 was probably the first time that we had legal representation on some of those committees.
We were placing an emphasis last year on cybersecurity and data privacy. Because of all the hacks and breaches you read about, a cross-functional group was put together. They reached out to legal so that we would have a representative in that group throughout the whole process. In other words, in the past, they probably would go through the whole thing with HR and IT, then pull in legal at the end. Now, people are starting to include us in company-wide initiatives.
On the flip side, what has been the most difficult aspect of integration to pull off?
Getting the other groups to view legal differently. The traditional view is, “I have a project and I have a list of ten things. I have ten checkboxes on my list for my project, and legal might be number nine or number ten.” I’ve tried to get people to realize that legal probably needs to be the second or third step out of ten—not the last one. If we can get input early in a process, we can help the company possibly steer clear of any potential problems, as opposed to having to be the bad guy and tell people at the end, “Well, you can’t do it that way.”
“People will know that somebody from our legal group is going to be on-site, and that they can stop in anytime to ask questions.”
How much work do you feel still has to be done blending in legal with the rest of the company?
It’s still a process we’re working on. Although integration was my number-one goal when taking over in March of last year, it’s not and never will be 100 percent completed. But we’ve certainly moved on. To me, it was the foundation for any of the other things that I wanted to do for the group—working with other groups such as the business team, or other functional groups like HR, IT, and sourcing. Until we had some base level of integration, it was going to be hard to do that. It was more about getting people on my team to think about what they would do to integrate with other people and how to get involved with other groups. I think we take that for granted these days. In the age of Skype and chat services, it’s always good to get face-to-face interaction whenever you can.
We’ve certainly used those things, as we’re an international company. We do about half our business domestically and half internationally. We have locations through the world. So we use a lot of Skype for business calls. But it is nice to be able to just walk next door or down the hallway to talk to a colleague internally, every day if you want to.
Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP:
Working with Chris is satisfying and rewarding. He provides clear direction as to Panduit’s objectives on all assignments and collaborates with us to achieve those objectives. Chris rates at the top of the effective general counsel list.
—Donald L. Mrozek, Chairman Emeritus
Chris leads a sophisticated legal team that truly partners with outside counsel to achieve results. He is a business-oriented, solution-driven lawyer, who pushes counsel to think creatively in supporting Panduit’s business objectives.
—Kelly Eberspecher, Partner