Adapting to a Change of Venue

Vertellus’s Anne Frye didn’t expect to move from trial law to in-house work, but now that she has, she’s applying her time from the courtroom to new endeavors in the boardroom

When Anne Frye left law school, she never envisioned working for a business. She’d trained to become a trial lawyer at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law, loved it, and says she would have been content doing that forever. In June 2018, though, Frye celebrated her twenty-first anniversary with Vertellus, an international manufacturer of chemicals for products serving a range of markets, from agriculture to healthcare to plastics.

“It’s nothing I would have predicted,” Frye says, adding that even when she started at the legal department with Vertellus, friends told her she likely would take on other responsibilities in no time. “I thought, ‘What are you talking about?’ I have no business training. Legal is what I’m here to do.”

However, her friends were right. In Frye’s time at Vertellus, not only has she ultimately risen to the level of vice president, general counsel, secretary, and compliance officer; she also recently got the chance, after Vertellus’s CEO left, to serve as a member of a three-person executive committee tasked with fulfilling the CEO’s duties until a new one could be found.

It’s a bit of a shift from trial work, but at the same time, Frye says, that classical training is what has helped guide her path in the business world, including her ability to adapt to change and find and collaborate with the right people.

Anne Frye, Vertellus Photo by Samuel Clemmons

“One of my mentors at my first firm told me, ‘If you’re not leaving your first meeting with your client formulating your closing argument in your mind already, you’re not doing your job,’” Frye says. “That kind of strategic aspect is something that has come in handy time and again throughout my career, but it’s part and parcel of being a trial lawyer. You have to think about how to make seamless moves.”

In more than two decades with Vertellus, Frye has seen the company shift from a family-owned business to an international force that has brought in an array of talent and experience from around the world. In the wake of that transition, Frye’s duties have grown to encompass strategic planning, including determining the personnel to bring into the company and the best ways to foster collaboration and communication between its many international employees and teams. Frye says she and others have done this chiefly through a focus on “smart processes” and “smart people.”

“Some time ago, when we were looking at strategic objectives, we adopted the tagline ‘Smart chemistry. Our specialty,’” Frye explains. “But, then we said, ‘What does that mean?’ We’ve defined four attributes: smart market position, smart chemistry leadership, smart people, and smart processes. It comes down to making sure we have the right people in the right roles, a culture of accountability and commitment. Without the people, we’re not going to get product out the door.”

Achieving that chemistry goes beyond finding the right people, though. “We always want to be doing things smarter, better, and more effectively,” Frye says. “We want to make sure we’re following those processes with the right mix of rigor and speed—never forgetting we have to strive for continuous improvement.”

One such example of this approach seems simple, but it has made a world of difference in Frye’s role. Vertellus’s legal department has four members: one in India, another in New Jersey, and two in Indianapolis. Not long ago, although these four talked during regular department meetings, their discussions were very formal and agenda driven.

“So, one of my colleagues suggested a virtual lunch every week, just to talk about what’s going on,” Frye says. “It’s great to have an unstructured session like that. We still have the structured sessions, but it keeps us all engaged on a lot of aspects that might not come up in other meetings.”

The open lines of communication and the ability to interact with colleagues on both formal and informal levels have helped Frye and others at Vertellus identify creative ways to do business. Although she says there are still plenty of issues that come across her desk that demand a lot of time and effort, the success she’s had in helping build a strong team has eased the burden of having to deal with both legal and administrative duties. What’s more, her work ethic seems to be rubbing off on the company. Frye says that for the first time in Vertellus’s history, its legal department has developed a mission statement.

“It says, ‘We are committed deeply to finding creative business solutions, providing quality service, and inspiring trust,’” she says. “I’m really proud of the work of the team in developing that. I think it not only captures what we are but guides us as we move forward. It reminds us that we are not just giving the legal answer, and it has us all starting from the same point. Maybe we were there already, but sometimes glancing up at your wall and looking at that is just a nice grounding mechanism.”