Correctly Calibrated Contracting

Maryann Perttunen is using her twenty years of experience to find contract-review efficiencies and minimize risk for automotive-safety supplier Autoliv

Maryann Perttunen, Autoliv

The sixteen attorneys in the global legal department at Autoliv—a manufacturer of automobile safety equipment—all review contracts, leaving a lot of potential for duplicate work. Maryann Perttunen, associate general counsel for the company, has a few ideas on how to change that.

Perttunen is working with the IT department to create a document-management and collaboration solution that will be used to standardize the contract-review process for all legal personnel worldwide. If team members on both sides of the Atlantic followed the same review process, Perttunen says, it would minimize confusion about which steps attorneys need to take on each document—and prevent repeat work.

“Maybe somebody in Europe has already looked at [a contract],” Perttunen says, offering an example. “You can reach out to that individual and either have them look at some new addendum or know that you don’t need to because it’s already been looked at.” Currently, Autoliv’s lawyers sometimes have to track down documents or ask their colleagues about the status of a given document, which slows down the contracting process. By creating efficiencies in the contract-review protocol, Perttunen hopes to free up the legal team’s time so that they can better serve the business as a whole.

Perttunen and her colleagues in IT have been searching for a cost- and time-effective tool that can track the contract-review process, and they’ve made it a priority to choose something compatible with their existing systems and software. Microsoft’s Matter Center is a promising contender, and if it’s chosen, Perttunen will take the lead in implementing it. She’ll help set up the tool to suit the specific needs of Autoliv’s various global regions, determine who will input information, and establish notification preferences, among other responsibilities. 

She’ll also help organize training—a step she sees as vital to successful implementation of the new tool. “The reality is, if you bring in new systems, people are set in their ways,” Perttunen says. “You’ve got to take that extra time to work with [your colleagues], listen to their concerns, listen to how they operate, and make sure that those concerns or constraints they may have on time are appropriately addressed.”

Contract-review standardization isn’t the only big change on the horizon for Autoliv. The company may formally divide its two divisions—passive safety and electronics—into two corporations. That change would affect the legal team’s workflow, too, because each attorney would have a more narrowly defined group of contracts to review. For example, Perttunen, who works in the passive safety division, would no longer have to review electronics-related contracts.

Even in the face of so much change, though, Perttunen relishes the opportunity to lead. She adds value and influences the business by acting as an informal sounding board for businesspeople at all levels. With her twenty years of legal experience—including seven at Autoliv—Perttunen has the perfect combination of insider knowledge and independence from the company’s other business groups. “Part of what you do, I think, is not only guide [the business groups] on the legal side but help them realize from an outsider’s point of view the implications [their decisions] could have,” she says.

In addition to lending her insights to the business groups, Perttunen shares her perspective with Autoliv’s HR department. “You might have a situation where, from a legal point of view, there are no legal restrictions on taking certain actions, but there could be other implications internally,” she says. For example, some HR decisions, while perfectly legal, could have a negative effect on employee morale. In such situations, Perttunen finds ways to minimize or eliminate negative repercussions—“maybe if we communicated [the change] in a different manner to address questions ahead of time,” she says, as a hypothetical example.

From spearheading Autoliv’s standardization initiative to reviewing contracts to giving advice, Perttunen has an incredibly wide range of responsibilities. Rising to that challenge, she says, is the most attractive part of her role. “I think the best part, for me,” she says, “is the broad range of topics I get to work on and the ability to help guide the company in a good direction and contribute.”

Photo by Kathy Kramar

Maryann Perttunen on …

Her Engineering Background
Before her time with Autoliv, Maryann Perttunen worked as a mechanical engineer for Ford Motor Company. Here, she discusses how that past expertise enhances her work.

How does your background in mechanical engineering help you as an associate general counsel at Autoliv?
Understanding some of the products and how they work—or the issues that we may have on the production side. Having the mechanical engineering degree is definitely better because you can communicate with the technical people on their level. When I have discussions with people that are very technical in nature, once I tell them I have a mechanical engineering degree, they talk to me in a different way.

Can you think of any specific lessons from mechanical engineering that you’ve applied?
I think it’s just the way that I approach things. I like to have all the data, all the details in front of me before I analyze things. I think, on complex topics, that’s extremely helpful—like reading twenty-page agreements. Sometimes, I’ll be on page ten, but terms are conflicting that I read on page two. I don’t know if that has anything to do with engineering or just I’m weirdly wired that way.