When Ronald Prague was first hired at Synchronoss in 2006, he didn’t join the legal department at the telecommunications and technology company—he was the legal department.
“I was actually the first lawyer the company ever had. They had worked with outside counsel before, but never had established an actual in-house department,” says Prague, who now serves as the company’s chief legal officer at its headquarters in Bridgewater, New Jersey. “And the reason that I decided to join was ultimately because of the people. I thought it was a great opportunity because the people were very entrepreneurial and collaborative; it was a growing technology publicly-held company.”
Over the years, Prague has been able to build the Synchronoss legal team from scratch; it’s now composed of eight individuals who work in New Jersey, California, and Europe. But that didn’t happen right away: for the first several years that he worked at the company, he remained its only in-house lawyer. “The first couple of years I was here, I really worked to become part of the executive team and to gain the trust of those executives and my peers,” he says. “That was my first challenge here, and we worked together to eventually form a really strong bond and build a legal department.”
Building rapport was especially important because Prague’s arrival at the company coincided with a pivotal time in the growth of the organization. “Right before I started, Synchronoss had just gone public, and for regulatory reasons, when you’re a public company, there are certain things you need to put in place from a legal perspective,” Prague explains.
“Even though I’m a lawyer to the business aspects of the company, this is also a leadership role, so I try to focus on the fact that I’m a leader of the company as a whole.”
“I think that process went as well as it did because the management was very receptive to the things we wanted to do. We have a compliance program now. We do a lot of legal training. I started a patent program, and I oversee risk management,” he says. “The ability to make those things happen was enhanced by the willingness of the management and its support.”
As chief legal officer, Prague is, of course, in charge of the many legal, compliance, regulatory, and risk management facets of the business. But he says the role also goes beyond simply managing and operating the legal function.
“Even though I’m a lawyer to the business aspects of the company, this is also a leadership role, so I try to focus on the fact that I’m a leader of the company as a whole. Because of that, I make sure I meet with people from across the different organizations—including here in New Jersey— in order to make sure we understand each other, are on the same page, and are able to build relationships,” Prague says.
“Overall, I’m also aware that every decision made in the company is a business decision. So if there’s a liability, my role is to advise and explain the risks and ramifications of what could potentially happen. If the management decides to go ahead with that risk, then we will be here to strategize and advise them along the path they choose,” he says.
In building his teams, Prague actively avoids micromanaging and has made it his goal to emphasize a harmonious and collaborative environment. He likes to give his team members considerable latitude in their roles and opportunities for growth; he also makes himself available for mentoring.
“I think the key to any acquisition is: when you buy the company, you should understand the company.”
“One thing I do when I meet with my team is ask them what areas they’d like to be more involved in at the company. One individual might want more securities work. Another might want more litigation experience. So we’ll try to set those people up with more of those types of responsibilities,” Prague says.
“From a hiring standpoint, I’m also a firm believer that, when you build a team, you need to look for people who not only can work well with others but also people who fit within the specific team,” he adds.
Now that Synchronoss has grown, its customers and acquisitions span the globe. Prague has been able to ensure growth by building relationships across borders and by working to keep everyone on the same page. “We have done a tremendous number of acquisitions and those acquisitions come with international subsidiaries and a variety of different cultures, so we make sure everyone understands everyone’s perspective through training,” Prague says.
“I think the key to any acquisition is: when you buy the company, you should understand the company,” he says.