In June 2012, I became general counsel of Harsco Corp., taking on responsibility for both the legal and compliance functions. Although I was well-prepared for the position, I initially felt a bit overwhelmed. I quickly settled in and became more strategic about my new role, and the timing could not have been better, as my teams and I were immediately tasked with developing long-range plans, which were to be presented to the executive leadership team six weeks into my tenure.

These long-range plans were intended to cover a three-year period and take a critical  look at the current state of each function and the path forward, discuss the strategic planning methodology, and highlight areas of strategic focus (the businesses, regional analyses, spend optimization and reduction, continuous improvement and technology). One might see this as a time-sensitive impossibility, but what I saw was an incredible opportunity to not only gain a clear understanding of the vision and strategy of the business, but also to align the strategy and forward motion of legal and compliance with that of the business. 

Long-range planning offers GCs a valuable opportunity to understand and protect the needs of the corporation while serving the needs of their business clients in a manner that preserves and encourages the profitability of the business. Add in the compliance function, and it provides an opportunity for early planning with regard to measures that can be put in place to ensure that entry into new markets allows for early planning; a collaborative approach to mitigation of risks; and training and education around cultural sensibilities, applicable laws, and regulations. Whether you do this as a newly minted general counsel or periodically throughout your tenure, completing long-range plans is a must-have tool in every successful general counsel’s toolbox, and it has the added benefit of focusing your teams on clear, achievable goals. If done correctly, it can provide a road map to success. 

The long-range planning process at Harsco showed clear and distinct differences between the legal and compliance functions. While legal was well on its way to becoming proactive and business-focused, using a matrix-based business partner structure to become embedded within the business, the compliance function was much more reactive. In many ways this was by design, given the short tenure (two years) of our compliance function. But what long-range planning should also give general counsel the chance to do is take an objective, no-holds-barred look at every department under their purview, and to assess whether there are parts of the same that need to be refocused or re-engineered. 

By taking this type of look at compliance, it became immediately apparent that the department needed to be restructured and aligned much more closely with the business. This resulted in a split of the function into two sub-functions: investigators who focused on issues and complaints that arise within the business; and business partners who focused on the training, education and road-map building mentioned above. When preparing a long-range plan, be sure to focus on team-building by including as many members of each function as possible in the planning process. An added benefit of this inclusion is that team members will be able to help one another see past their own blind spots and biases, resulting in a more complete and balanced plan. 

These past six months have without a doubt been some of the most fulfilling of my career, as I have seen first hand what articulating a clear vision and strategy, gaining buy-in from team members, and then holding those team members accountable can reap. Both our legal and compliance functions were able to enter 2013 with a road map for success built by the entire team. There is no better way to begin a general counsel career and build world-class legal and compliance teams. 

A. Verona Dorch is vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary at Harsco Corp.