The general counsel of an award-winning team has shared his insights on building an engaged legal department and providing strategic business advice.
Chris Lang, general counsel of PepsiCo Australia and New Zealand, appeared on The Lawyers Weekly Show earlier this year to discuss his team’s successes at the Corporate Counsel Awards 2017.
The PepsiCo legal team took out FMCG Team of the Year and the overall Corporate Counsel Excellence Award.
Mr Lang said the team’s flexibility and commercial approach helped it to guide the business through significant transformations over 2016.
“I think the underlying issue is how do you deliver your day-to-day deliverables on top of a significant transformational agenda,” he said.
“I think part of that is being flexible and giving the team opportunities to gain new critical experiences, work on interesting things, where people can really bring their best selves to work each day to deliver on those key projects.
“Then I think to be successful in any in-house role you really need to be a true business partner. You need to know the business [down] cold. If you don’t know why the business is either doing what they’re doing, or why some changes may or may not need to be made, you really can’t be an effective business partner and give good legal advice.
“It’s really a key requirement that everybody on our team understands the business priorities, has the customer at the heart, and is really focused on delivering consumer’s most loved brands. By linking those things, we were able to really engage a pretty significant agenda this past year.”
While PepsiCo went through significant changes to its business, including streamlining its distribution and making key divestments, it also relocated its Sydney office to focus on collaboration and team building.
“We recently moved into a new office in Chatswood where we went completely open-plan, flex working, activity-based working, so no fixed desks,” Mr Lang said.
“From the CEO all the way to the new employee that just started that day, we’re all open plan and it really just creates additional opportunities to network.
“Now you have people sitting together and you’re able to have a more open sharing of ideas and feedback, because feedback is a gift and so I think you need to take any opportunity to give and receive that feedback that you can.”
Mr Lang said he focuses on building a positive culture in the legal team, which promotes long-term success.
“We try to set up the team where, again, people are comfortable growing their careers and bringing their best to work everyday,” he said.
“What does that mean on a day-to-day basis? I think it really means empowering the team to find work that they find engaging, to deliver their best and to really be focused on the bottom line business results, but achieving them in the right way.
“I mean, anybody can go out and get short-term positive business results, but I think the incredible thing about PepsiCo, and I think you see it elsewhere, is there is a strong correlation between doing things the right way and getting the right results, and I think that resonates with our team: a team of people that like to win but also like to have fun.”
Mr Lang said the team’s successes at the Corporate Counsel Awards were a great reward for their hard work.
“What that external recognition validates, I think, is the significant work that the team did put into going above and beyond their normal day-to-day work and supporting the business, and really driving tremendous business results,” he said.
“The proudest I really am was [of] the internal feedback that we receive from our business partners, both throughout the nomination process and some of the testimonials they provided, but then also just some of the informal chats and just how they appreciate, I think, the practical, pragmatic advice that we provide.”
Entries for the 2018 Corporate Counsel Awards close on Friday. To lodge your submission or nominate an outstanding in-house lawyer, click here.