26 May 2017 at 12:29 BST

GCs must step up to become mini-CEOs or risk existential failure

GCs must become mini-CEOs of their legal organisations if they are to succeed in addressing the exponential changes in the legal marketplace, says Pearson GC Bjarne Tellmann.

Pearson GC Bjarne Tellmann is the author of a 'how to' book for legal departments Ken Wolter

General counsel must increasingly become mini-CEOs of their legal organisations, building their departments in the same way as CEOs build companies in order to address the exponential changes these challenges are bringing to the profession, according to Pearson general counsel Bjarne Tellmann. The head of legal at Pearson has walked the talk - revamping his legal department on a number of fronts from strategy to culture. In his newly published book - 'Building an outstanding legal team,' he outlines how to achieve this. "Today’s GC must lead, unify and inspire diverse groups of people across the globe with subtlety and diplomacy at the same time as demand for legal services is increasing, while resource constraints are more pronounced,"  Mr Tellmann says. "The stakes are higher than ever and the consequences of getting it wrong can be existential." 

Accelerating disruption

GCs are being asked to respond to these challenges at the same time as the profession itself is undergoing a period of accelerating disruption that is being driven by technology and globalisation. "To succeed, GCs must become miniature chief executives who can communicate, inspire and build outstanding legal teams, identify and anticipate risks, formulate and execute strategy, implement procurement and technology pipelines, control costs, ensure efficacy and nurture culture and talent," Mr Tellmann advocates. 

The Pearson way

At  Pearson, he oversees 170 people across six continents and has implemented a change agenda since his arrival. "Change has been a constant as we have transformed the function, and we have attempted to adhere to the principles outlined in the book, including the need to focus on the "why" over the "how", recognising that change is both inherently emotional and the only natural state of being, and ensuring that everyone is engaged and involved in the effort through input and projects," he says. 

Legal spend and structure

On the structural front, he created a global team from six separate divisions, reduced headcount and brought on more specialists focusing on core risk whilst reducing controllable legal send by over 40 per cent." We've reduced controllable legal spend by over 40 per cent by shifting the internal to external spend ratio, establishing UK and US law firm panels, appointing alternative legal service providers, rolling out 4-5 technology solutions, and expanding an internal contract organisation based in low cost jurisdictions (Iowa, Texas and Minnesota)."


Mr Tellmann also tackled the cultural issue - rolling out "an innovative culture initiative, including culture hacking and reward and recognition initiatives as outlined in the book under the banner of a major initiative we call "Project Roadmap", and launched a cohesive communications strategy that includes regular "unplugged" sessions across the world, global "town halls", intranet based communications efforts, etc."  Furthermore, he "consciously attempted to break silos by appointing people to leadership roles across cultures and operating units, giving people foreign short term assignments in a pragmatic way wherever possible."  The Pearson Legal Department, as a result,  emerged with some of the best scores in the company in terms of engagement across many metrics when the company as a whole was going through massive change. 

The book

Building an outstanding legal team - Battle-tested strategies from a general counsel can be obtained from Globe Law and Business at £48. Click here for further information. 


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