Before becoming general counsel (GC) for Republic National Distributing Company (RNDC), the second largest wine distributor in the country, Alan Rosenberg was not interested in joining the family business.
“I had been at too many family dinners and saw my relatives get into, let’s say, active discussions with one another about the business,” Rosenberg says. “I loved them, but I wanted to pitch my own tent and leave my work at the office.”
From 1996 to 2016, that’s exactly what he did. After getting journalism and law degrees, he spent three years as a civil litigation associate before going on to have an in-house career spanning nearly three decades. He gained expertise in managing corporate legal activities at healthcare, technology, and information management organizations. At these prior companies he led large teams and helped resolve high-stake lawsuits and also built departments and compliance programs from the ground up.
In 2009, Rosenberg’s decades of commitment to his craft culminated in the role of vice president and general counsel of the Americas for Recall, where he built the legal department from the ground up and developed corporate legal initiatives to address and solve the business’ most pressing problems. His time at the organization was so fruitful that he planned on retiring there.
But then, the business was sold.
“I wanted to work there for as long as possible because I really enjoyed the job, Recall, and the people I worked with,” he recalls. “But when Recall was sold, and, of course, they didn’t need two GCs.”
While Rosenberg had to leave behind a job and a company he loved, an opportunity arose for him to start anew. While at Recall, and much prior to its sale, he was contacted by the CEO of RNDC who requested his assistance with RNDC’s then pending search to fill its new GC position. Rosenberg helped the leader understand the kind of people the company should be looking for, what the job description should look like, and more. But when the CEO subsequently learned that Recall was being acquired, the conversations shifted.
“It went from ‘can you help me’ to ‘when can you start,’ which surprised me,” Rosenberg admits. “I did some deep soul searching and concluded that this was the time to join the family business. I figured it would be my last career move and I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to build a new legal department in ways that would benefit the company and help it keep growing. I spoke to my wife about it, my family, interviewed for the role, and the rest is history.”
In 2016, Rosenberg was named the company’s first GC and vice president, and now serves as corporate executive vice president and corporate secretary. For a business which was over one hundred years old, he had a lot of work to do. RNDC had outsourced all its legal work for years, and upon joining RNDC, all this legal work fell on the GC’s shoulders, which would require building a legal department and its infrastructure. The first six or seven months in the role, without any additional legal support internally, he focused on getting a lay of the land, understanding the business, studying alcohol beverage laws, and meeting with key stakeholders all over the country.
As RNDC began to recognize the value he brought to the company, leaders signed off on efforts to build a legal team. For Rosenberg, it was key to develop a team that wasn’t full of “yes men and women;” rather, he wanted to surround himself with other legal professionals who would look at an issue and not necessarily tell him what he wanted to hear, but instead what their independent opinion was on the issue.
“That’s how you get to the best answer: treating it as a team and not a dictatorship,” he advises. “It’s a democracy. Of course, I get the final say, but the final say isn’t always what I started with. Everyone’s voice is important, everyone contributes, and everyone feels free to provide their opinion, disagreement, or their guidance.”
Rosenberg is proud to say that he’s built such a team. So far, the legal department touts a strong five-person team, consisting of a senior paralegal Rosenberg brought over from Recall, an experienced corporate and employment lawyer, a corporate paralegal, and an alcohol beverage trade practices legal expert. Together, the group has brought order to the company’s contract system, dramatically reduced its annual legal spend, and implemented processes to drive efficiency in many business and legal activities.
“Alan is simply one of the most strategic and efficient GCs with whom I have worked over the last thirty-plus years. He builds legal teams of attorneys and legal assistants within companies, and through outside counsel—who he appropriately relies on—sets high but reasonable standards and expectations. [He] creates lifelong relationships built on trust and confidence,” says Richard Krumholz, partner at Norton Rose Fulbright LLP. “Having seen many in-house legal departments over the years, Alan has taken key elements of each to build a steady, strong department at RNDC, which the business leaders lean on as trusted advisors.”
As a leader, Rosenberg focuses on developing each team member so that they can either replace him or get a job like his somewhere else. “I’ve always said that I measure my success as a leader when the people that work with me develop professionally and can eventually either take over my role or become leaders in other legal opportunities,” he says.
To achieve this he regularly provides his team with opportunities to attend legal seminars; directly network with customers, business executives, and lawyers; work on projects and legal matters that they may not have a ton of experience in handling; further educational opportunities; and become involved with professional development organizations.
“I won’t be here forever, and at some point, I want to retire. I want to make sure the folks around me have the tools to succeed and to fill my role,” he says. “That’s how I walk and how I talk. I’ve been known to throw people in the deep end and say ‘swim,’ but I’m always right on the sideline with a raft.”
“It’s important that my team is a not only a collaborative group but one that has fun together,” says Alan Rosenberg on how he fosters a strong culture. “We meet online weekly and spend as much time joking as we do asking questions and passing along useful information. In fact, we had our first department retreat and decided to go to Disneyland for the entire day, where we walked around with mouse ears on our heads, road all the crazy rides, and just enjoyed each other’s company.”
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