Proactive professionals, obsessive organizers and serial schedulers, take note: Sometimes it’s ok to not have a plan.
Take it from Alan Kreczko. In the early 1970s, the Cleveland native graduated from Boston College with a political science degree. Although no one in his family had studied law, he decided that the next logical step for him was to go to law school. So he headed to the University of Michigan Law School. “But I didn’t go with a definite plan,” he says.
Then Kreczko’s career path took a serendipitous turn. A friend told him that the State Department was coming to campus to interview possible interns. On a whim, Kreczko applied and was accepted. He spent the summer in Washington, D.C., and loved it so much that he returned to the State Department to work full-time after graduation. “I spent the next 25 years in the foreign policy arena and enjoyed all of it tremendously,” he says.
Upon retiring from government work, Kreczko didn’t pause long to reflect on his accomplishments. A former colleague called him and offered him a position in the legal department at The Hartford. Although he had no experience in corporate law, Kreczko was eager to get even more fulfillment out of his career. He joined the investment and insurance company as deputy general counsel in September 2003. Today, he is executive vice president and general counsel.
Each day, Kreczko steps up to challenges while constantly honing his skills in areas of law that are new to him, and he wants his legal department to do the same. Kreczko says his goal is to expose his team members to new opportunities so they can develop their careers in ways they might not expect.
Q: Tell me about your experience working for the government.
A: I spent a big part of my early career working on the Arab-Israeli dispute. Those were pretty tough years in the Middle East, but we made some good progress in terms of Egyptian-Israeli relations.
The second segment of my career was more as a traditional lawyer. I was the deputy general counsel at the State Department, and then I was the legal adviser to the National Security Council in the Clinton White House. There was a lot of focus on counterterrorism, human rights and treaties.
During the third segment, I had a nonlegal job overseeing humanitarian assistance in conflict situations in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Timor. At the end of about 25 years of working for the government, I retired.
Q: What was your favorite part about working for the government?
A: You’re working on issues that are intrinsically important. You’re trying to devise solutions that really take into account the interests of our country.
It was a challenge to synthesize competing interests and come up with an approach that best reflects the common good.
Q: How did you come to work at The Hartford?
A: Neal Wolin, who is now the deputy secretary of the Treasury Department, was my predecessor as general counsel. He and I were friends and colleagues in Washington, D.C. We worked together in the Clinton White House. He invited me to join The Hartford.
I was in my mid-50s at the time, and I had never been in the private sector. I had no experience in insurance law, corporate law or securities law. Neal and the company were willing to take a chance that the skills I had developed in the government would be transferrable to the corporate sector. So I came to The Hartford as deputy general counsel and then became general counsel [in June 2007].
Q: Were you worried that working at The Hartford would be a lot different from your previous work?
A: I had taken a couple of jobs in the government that were out of my comfort zone, but I was nonetheless nervous about learning how to operate in a company, and the fact that all of these substantive areas would be new to me.
Q: Tell me about the legal department at The Hartford.
A: We’re a large law department with about 600 people. That includes not just law, but also compliance and government affairs. There are roughly 200 lawyers scattered across about 20 different locations, with most in the U.S. and a couple overseas. The vast majority are located in Hartford [Conn.].
I frequently handle corporate governance matters. I also support our businesses when there is a significant legal impediment. For example, we recently rolled out a new variable annuity product. The Securities and Exchange Commission had questions about it, and I went down to Washington, D.C. to help resolve those issues.
Increasingly, I try to devote my time to talent development in the law department. I have a strong team, but I would like this to be a place where all of the team members—lawyers and nonlawyers—feel like they can advance their careers.
Q: What’s most challenging about your work?
A: The fact that there is no area of law where I am expert. That remains a challenge. I’m fortunate that I have strong heads of all of the departments that report to me.
Q: What do you most enjoy about your work?
A: I like working with the CEO, CFO and the board on corporate strategy. I like working with the senior business leaders in finding ways to overcome legal obstacles to our business plans. And I like helping the people in my law department analyze and solve the issues they’re working on.
Q: Are lawyers at The Hartford involved in the community?
A: It is in the DNA of the law department to be active in the community. We work with the Pro Bono Partnership, we teach business law in the high schools in Hartford and we’re very active in the Walk Against Hunger.
Q: How does The Hartford work to promote diversity?
A: We’re definitely focusing on diversity, and that includes gender, ethnicity, race and sexual orientation. Our objective is to create a culture of openness and trust where people feel comfortable expressing a wide range of views.
Q: What advice would you give to a young lawyer aspiring to become a GC?
A: Make sure you’re always doing quality legal work. If you relax your own legal standards, people will become attuned to that, and it will affect your reputation. Understand the importance of working well with your colleagues—both up the line, down the line and across the line.
Don’t try to be formulaic in terms of identifying your path of progression. Be open to new ideas, be open to stretch assignments and operate outside of your sweet zone if you get a chance.
Q: What’s your proudest professional moment?
A: I played a significant role in the resolution of the last territorial dispute between Egypt and Israel. It was a successful resolution, and coming out of it, I got a note of appreciation from then-Prime Minister [Shimon] Peres of Israel. That was a very nice moment.
Q: If you didn’t work in law, what would your dream job be?
A: I love the outdoors, so I’d be active in support of the environment or on the adventure side—perhaps a fly-fishing guide.