Story Still Matters

Vertex’s Bryan Rowland on the power of narratives in rebranding legal

Bryan Rowland, General Counsel, Head of Information Security and Strategic Business and Corporate Development, Vertex Photo by Dennis Degnan

Bryan Rowland believes in the value of a good story. Storytelling is a skill that a lot of executive leaders fail to develop, though it has implications far beyond popularity at the water cooler. “You have to be able to tell your story and build a vision,” Rowland says. Since coming to Vertex in 2017, Rowland has crafted a narrative for the company’s legal department, but that’s not all. He’s had to overcome the prevailing idea that his team was only there in a support function. “We had to let people know that not only are these people working very hard for you, but they can do even more if you let us set this department up in a way that gives them a voice,” Rowland says.

In building a new vision for legal, Rowland has also seen his job scope widen considerably. Initially hired as Vertex’s GC, Rowland now oversees information security and is involved in strategic business and corporate development as well—roles Rowland wasn’t sure he was prepared for initially, but personal interests that have subsequently turned into wider responsibilities at Vertex.

It’s evident that Rowland was destined for business development from the way that he speaks about approaching his own law department. “When I first came here, the legal team was not particularly empowered, and they had been without a leader for quite some time,” Rowland says. “I think they felt like they were in service to everyone else, but in the worst sort of way.”

Rowland, whose undergraduate degree in psychology has continually been advantageous in his legal roles, says that building the narrative became absolutely crucial. “I asked them to trust me and to understand that I was going to start having dialogues with the other leaders,” Rowland says. “I asked them to believe me that the narrative could be changed.” In eight months, Rowland says the turnaround was well underway, after legal shone on a high-profile project. Later, when legal rolled out a new contract management tool, there was an incredible amount of pushback from the rest of the organization. “Now the sales folks tell me how much it’s improved the process,” Rowland says.

Part of what makes Rowland’s narrative so compelling is the GC’s honesty about his past work. “Prior to being sold, my last company was struggling with a wide variety of issues, including activist investors, big litigation, and international issues that had to be legislated,” Rowland says. “I was very fortunate in having seen quite a bit of pressure in a very short amount of time. I’m one of the few people that has truly been through the ringer and able to offer perspective on where we should be focusing our energy to prevent those kinds of matters.”

It’s also given Rowland a keen eye for developing and maintaining talent. “It may sound a little provocative, but all of our skills are replaceable,” Rowland says. “What’s not replaceable is the personalities—and that special sauce that they create when they mix.” It’s developing that ideal balance of chemistry and abilities that interests Rowland. Rowland says businesses who want to plug and play with talented individuals can quickly enter an arms race that no one wins. “You have to look at individuals beyond their résumés,” Rowland says.

While Rowland’s own résumé is impressive in its breadth, he says Vertex finds itself in a position that is new even for him. “We’re in a unique stage, moving from a small start-up to a more mature global company, and we’re looking at issues like global scaling and international talent development,” Rowland says. “I’m looking forward to focusing on these things for the first time.”

Whether it’s his legal team, information security, or business development, Rowland—who has seemed to take on a new job everywhere he’s been every two years or so—says that progress ultimately comes down to empowering every member of his team to feel like they can take risks and establish themselves as future leaders. “I want them to be part of that journey,” he says, “and I’m excited to see where that will go.” And for Rowland, empowerment happens when everyone is on the same page of the same story.

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Stradley Ronon:

“Bryan has a wealth of knowledge and experience in all areas of the law. In addition, he has exceptional management skills, and he possesses sound and practical judgment. He is also one hell of a golfer!”

–Bill Sasso, Chairman