John A. Menicucci Jr.’s consistent focus on teamwork at Union Pacific may seem unusual for a senior counsel. The in-house legal role traditionally operates outside of the business functions and is at risk for being seen as an inhibitor of business. But Menicucci’s emphasis on partnering with the business side of UP has helped involve legal both early and often in valuable discussions as well as in helping determine the future of the 157-year-old company.
Menicucci’s promotion of teamwork comes with an especially high pedigree. The lawyer is an army veteran who served as a tank and mortar platoon leader as well as a personnel company commander from 1998 to 2002. He says that without multiple disparate parts of that organization coming together, the mission simply wouldn’t have been successful. “One of the biggest lessons that I still try to apply today—you need to be focused on what the next steps are and how to get there,” Menicucci says. “I try to get everyone to really work collectively and promote a team-driven atmosphere.”
That can be a difficult challenge, given that Menicucci is tasked with partnering with UP’s in-house clients to provide advice not only on corporate, securities, finance, and corporate governance but on jointly and wholly owned subsidiaries as well. “We’re there to help those board members make the best decisions possible,” Menicucci says. “There are regular board meetings, so a lot of that means following up on those meetings and advising the business so those boards have the right compositions in terms of experience, diversity, and otherwise.”
Ego, the lawyer says, has to be left at the door to make sure everyone is working on behalf of—not in spite of—its internal clients. “It’s a lesson I learned in the military a long time ago. I always talk a lot about improving your position,” Menicucci says. “That’s looking to where we are now, not just myself, and making sure we’re giving advice to our colleagues and business partners so they’re improving the overall position of the company and making sure that we’re following through on what comes next.”
“One of the biggest lessons that I still try to apply today—you need to be focused on what the next steps are and how to get there.”
Moving together requires a degree of relationship building that the lawyer says many people can easily miss out on. “I want business teams in other parts of the organization to feel comfortable picking up the phone and calling me day, night, or weekends,” Menicucci says. “I want them to trust that I’m giving them the best advice and that we’re on the same page, working together.” Menicucci believes if he’s doing his job correctly, he’s helping the business perform and operate even better.
Speaking of furthering UP’s business strategies, he says there is a company-wide focus on precision scheduled railroading (PSR) under Union Pacific’s Unified Plan 2020, an innovative strategy that is largely credited for turning around other US Class I railroads and is now being given its own test in the States. “We are all looking at our legal department and how we operate to make sure we maximize use of all of our assets,” Menicucci says. “We’re really taking a new look at how we work with our business partners and how we can operate more efficiently.”
As big a company as Union Pacific may be and with as storied a past as it has, Menicucci says that changing how the company works may help keep his legal team responsible, agile, and always ready to move. “We’ve geared up for that transformation, and our partnership with our business partners is a big piece of how that works,” Menicucci says. The organizational transformation helps lay additional track for future success and growth, and keeping legal involved in those conversations from the onset, the senior counsel says, will help move business forward with the power of a locomotive.
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