Working in Harmony

As associate general counsel and corporate secretary, John Saia helps his legal team ensure the well-being of McKesson Corporation’s sprawling global enterprise

McKesson Corporation encompasses an immense range of healthcare products, services, and solutions. So many, in fact, that its fiscal 2017 revenue was nearly $200 billion—from more than seven hundred subsidiaries worldwide. The money came from distribution of pharmaceuticals, medical and surgical equipment, specialty businesses—such as care-management tools for more than three thousand oncologists—and numerous other healthcare IT systems and technologies. The company also owns or manages more than fifteen thousand pharmacies throughout North America and Europe. One of the unifying threads running through these disparate operations, though, is McKesson’s general counsel organization.

That’s where you’ll find John Saia, associate general counsel and corporate secretary. Among his peers, he may have one of the most comprehensive portfolios when it comes to ensuring active compliance with a wide variety of local, state, and federal agencies and statutes. He’s also responsible for supporting McKesson’s board of directors and facilitating its active supervision of the company’s global operations and executive leadership team.

John Saia, McKesson

It’s up to Saia and his team to be strong strategic advisors to support and accelerate growth for McKesson. “The general counsel organization, and in particular our corporate teams, have the ability and privilege to work across the enterprise,” Saia says. “We can help our colleagues stay abreast of important trends and developments by sharing best practices and innovative solutions, which in turn helps shorten learning curves and supports the growth of our business.”

Saia and his team are often called on to balance competing priorities. “We always have to keep the objectives of our business units in mind, but ultimately, I have responsibility for the well-being of the global enterprise,” Saia says. “By being in-house with an appreciation and understanding of our business, I can help identify and resolve potential conflicts that arise within the organization and work for creative solutions that bring strategies back into balance and protect the overall company.”

Of course, these can be difficult conversations because certain solutions may adversely affect the profitability of one unit to the advantage of another. The conversations are made easier, however, because in-house counsel have the advantage of insight into how each of the business units work in concert to support the global enterprise. Saia and his team are also always sure to provide strong legal and rational grounds when making their cases and do so with respect for the company’s leaders.

These encounters are also facilitated by McKesson’s ILEAD philosophy, which is based on the following principles: inspire, leverage, execute, advance, and develop. “ILEAD is our common definition and shared commitment to leadership,” Saia says. “By embracing this commitment, we bring out the best in ourselves and position McKesson to continue to drive better health for our company, our customers, and the patients we touch for years to come.”

Saia adds that the program also offers a framework through which to analyze issues and drive alignment, even when it means sacrificing a local objective for the greater good. “Everyone might not be happy with a decision, but they should be able to understand the reasons for it,” Saia explains. “To make that happen, legal must earn the respect of our clients at all levels by bringing issues early, often, being open to discussion, and carefully navigating business-unit preferences and priorities.”

His contact with both the corporate and business-unit leaders at many levels enables Saia to promote business growth and improvements in a variety of ways. For example, he and his team are instrumental in terms of ensuring continued compliance with the thousands of required licenses for both the parent company and each of its global subsidiaries. Working closing with his finance, tax, and treasury colleagues, he and they also facilitate capital management, ensuring the company’s ability to cost-effectively grow through internal investments and acquisitions.

As corporate secretary, Saia is intricately involved in ensuring the board of directors has access to the information and resources it needs while facilitating effective communication between its members and the senior executive team. This gives him a unique view across the entirety of McKesson and allows him to see how well-coordinated strategies enable all its pieces to work together in harmony. And to him, that’s the best part of being a guardian of the corporation.

“When you can see how different units from all over the world operate collectively, it’s like an orchestra playing together,” he says. “For a company of our scale and size, there has to be a clear set of strategies, or there would just be noise. But, when it’s done right, everything moves in harmony, and there’s beauty in that orchestration. And as counselor to the company, part of my role is to help make that music.”

Photos by Gillian Fry

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Morrison & Foerster LLP:

“John’s steadfast commitment to McKesson is apparent in everything he does. His keen business and legal acumen ensure that a company as large and diverse as McKesson always performs at the highest level.”

—Marty Dunn, Senior Of Counsel