Sherwin-Williams GC is on an In-House Creative Streak
Cathy Kilbane is continuing her in-house creative streak: the new general counsel of The Sherwin-Williams Company just landed at the paint-maker from greeting card firm American Greetings Corporation, where she served as general counsel for nine years.
The switch is in keeping with Kilbanes lawyering palette. Shes long been hooked on liking to work with companies that have a strong culture of creativity and innovation, she tells CorpCounsel.com.
Kilbane replaces Lou Stellato, who retired at the end of 2012 after 31 years with the company.
Both Sherwin-Williams and American Greetings are based in Kilbanes hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, where she also attended Case Western Reserve University as an undergrad and earned her J.D. from the universitys school of law.
Kilbane went on to join BakerHostetlers Cleveland office, where she worked for 16 years, most recently as a partner in the corporate group. I worked with a lot of companies for whom intellectual property, technology, and brand equity were important revenue drivers, she says of her time with the firm.
Thats where she got early lessons in the value attorneys bring to creative intangibles: As a lawyer you can give [creators] that sense of ownership by obtaining a patent or a trademark or a copyright, or licensing that and creating a revenue stream from it, Kilbane says.
Intellectual property was a core focus for Kilbane at American Greetings, which, in addition to its namesake cards for birthdays and other occasions, also owns the Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake, as well as Recycled Paper Greetings and Papyrus, two social expressions lines (to borrow the industry lingo).
The American Greetings legal department often worked with writers and artists, Kilbane says. In-house lawyers also listened to what the business needed in order to help facilitate high consumer demand for new products.
One of the things we learned at American Greetings is [the consumer is] always going to be looking for fresh, engaging products that really surprise and delight her, Kilbane explains. So we worked a lot with the creative talent to make sure that legal could put in a process that very quickly gave them approval on any issue, such as intellectual property or First Amendment, so that they could get those cards to market very quickly.
Fostering talent in her own department is also a top priority for Kilbane, who now leads 31 attorneys. Im a big advocate of developing talent through training, she says. Both internal and external CLEs, I think, are very important to make sure that your folks have the right tools to do the job. And in any kind of a culture of innovationas Sherwin-Williams hasyou have to stay current.
Kilbane will continue to focus on IP at Sherwin-Williams. Cleveland is home to the Fortune 500 paint manufacturers Breen Technology Center, where 300 scientists and researchers work on research and development. As a female GC and the mother of two daughters, ages 4 and 8, Kilbane notes, I was very impressed that over one-third of these scientists and researchers are women.
The new GC also is looking forward to working with Sherwin-Williams CEO Chris Connor, recently named one of the top 100 best-performing CEOs in the world by the Harvard Business Review. She had the chance to observe his leadership style when serving on two nonprofit boards he chaired, University Hospitals Health System and United Way Services of Greater Cleveland.
Both Kilbane and Connor continue to serve on the University Hospitals board, which Connor no longer chairs. Kilbane balances two other board commitments, too: shes a director of the Cuyahoga Community College Foundation, a nonprofit, and shes on the board of The Andersons Inc., a Toledo, Ohio-based agribusiness firm. She chairs the companys compensation committee and serves on the audit committee.
The GC and CEO now have the opportunity to forge a professional alliance at Sherwin-Williams. Hes very engaged and collaborative, and hes got a strong performance orientation, Kilbane says. That really resonated with me. So the opportunity to learn from someone like that in a professional setting was very compelling.