Cognizant is a company on the rise. The leading IT services and consulting company founded in 1994 has $18.65 billion in revenue and 330,000 employees worldwide. It landed on Fortune magazine’s yearly ranking of the nation’s five hundred largest companies in 2011 and cracked the top two hundred in 2018 through 2021.
The ranking was validation for the company’s hard work during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “We are focused on helping clients deliver exceptional experiences created at the intersection of cloud and digital. I’m grateful to all of our associates for putting their hearts into living client-centricity under the difficult conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic,” CEO Brian Humphries said in a statement.
Those clients, who work mainly in industries like healthcare, automotive, banking, retail, and technology, rely on Cognizant’s unparalleled experience and subject matter expertise in artificial intelligence, cloud enablement, modernization, and a suite of digital solutions designed to accelerate business objectives. Humphries and his colleagues serve all top thirty global pharma companies, all top ten European banks, most top ten internet companies, and most top twenty healthcare plans.
As senior vice president, deputy general counsel, and global head of legal operations and litigation, labor, and employment, Claudius Sokenu works with his general counsel to craft and implement an important strategy designed to manage risk, defend claims, and uncover new opportunities for the large and fast-moving multinational corporation. He manages a large team of four hundred lawyers and other professionals who collaborate to coordinate all aspects of litigation, government investigations, regulatory enforcements, and other issues. Sokenu stepped in to lead the department in March of 2020 and has since added to the existing legal team, thereby reducing outside counsel expenses by $40 million.
Before joining Cognizant, Sokenu was deputy general counsel at a large Texas-based energy company known as Andeavor, where he rebuilt a litigation department and restructured an ethics and compliance program. He started his career in an honors program at the US Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement and also spent about eight years in private practice.
Sokenu says the variety of experiences have prepared to navigate the world of digital technology and the scope of an enormous corporation. “It’s a much more dynamic, fluid, new, innovative industry as opposed to the old, tried-and-trusted engineering and oil and gas environment,” he explains. “Judgment is important. it’s impossible to know every detail, but it’s been critical bringing my judgment to bear.”
Six months into taking on the new position at Cognizant, Sokenu faced a big test: a major New York trial in the middle of a global pandemic. The company and one of its subsidiaries, TriZetto Healthcare, won a $854 million jury verdict from Syntel inc. after demonstrating trade secret theft in the rival’s software. Syntel originally accused TriZetto of poaching employees to obtain trade secrets leading to a successful countersuit. Sokenu and Cognizant worked without outside firm Kirkland & Ellis to achieve the ruling made up of $284.8 million in compensatory and $569.7 million in punitive damages. An April 2021 court ruling reduced the punitive award to $285 million.
It was just one of several big projects to come across Sokenu’s desk in his first two years, as he also helped settle a class action for $95 million. As he resolves large cases and settles into his leadership role at a growing and influential company, Sokenu is using his platform to promote two important issues: mentorship and diversity.
Sokenu has seen the effects of conscious and unconscious bias and benefitted from mentors in his own career journey. He studied at King’s College London, graduated from Georgetown University Law Center, and became the first Black male partner at New York’s Shearman & Sterling law firm. “Was there anything about me that was dramatically better than those who came before? Clearly not,” he reflected in a Cognizant blog post. “As I’d find throughout my career, I was buoyed by people who invested time and political capital in pushing me through the barriers.”
With a large legal department and a budget topping $100 million, he now has the chance to mentor others and push key diversity initiatives. “It’s important that our firm reflects the community and society,” he says, adding that he’s committed to helping Cognizant recruit and retain diverse talent.
These efforts complement those of Sokenu’s counterparts on the business side to push the company forward. In 2021, the company grew its international footprint, expanded its digital suite, and increased bookings, revenues, and dividends.
“Claudius really outdid himself this year—he actually turned a major in-house legal department into a huge profit center,” says Bruce Bettigole, partner at Eversheds Sutherland. “In the midst of COVID, he applied his outstanding strategic skills to a massively successful litigation, while simultaneously overhauling legal operations to save Cognizant tens of millions in legal spend.”