Roderick (Rick) A. Palmore, GC of General Mills
Roderick (Rick) A. Palmore, GC of General Mills

Have you enjoyed a mouth-watering Sara Lee pie or a nutritious box of Cheerios any time in the past 18 years? If so, there’s a good chance you have Roderick (Rick) A. Palmore to thank for your snack time. As the former general counsel of Sara Lee Corporation, a position he held for 12 years, and havin

g served as the executive vice president, general counsel and chief compliance and risk management officer, and secretary of General Mills, Inc., his post since 2008, Palmore has become a leader in the food industry through his work in house. He has also become a leader in the legal industry for his work increasing diversity as a former chair and current director for the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity. InsideCounsel recently asked Palmore to discuss his job, his advice to young lawyers, and his views on the industry. Below is our exchange:

Q: You have worked exclusively within the food industry during your time in house. How has the industry changed during your time as GC?

The challenges in the food industry have been pretty dynamic. There have been a lot of social changes since I first got in a GC chair. And that’s been reflected in food, interestingly enough, as interest in food ingredients in society has increased. And with that comes more government scrutiny and regulation. When you couple that with the fact that we have much more competition — it’s a smaller world and local is now bigger—there has been a lot of change.

Q: So then how do you deal with the increased regulatory attention?

That is a part of doing business, and you have to find a way to navigate it and to be engaged in the discussion as those regulations evolve. It’s important to develop credibility in the relationship, so that regulators understand you’re not someone who will try and take advantage of the rules but are someone who will work with them to put the best product out there for your customers.

Q: Through your work on the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, what are some successful strategies you’ve seen for GCs to promote diversity within their departments?

Personal example is the most impactful. What is the general counsel doing on diversity? How is he or she walking the walk? Within a law department, that speaks more loudly than anything else. I’d also say that performance trumps everything. There’s a growing body of evidence, and almost a consensus, that diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams.

Finally, it is important to establish the link between overall talent and diversity. I can’t afford to have anything other than the best talent working on my staff, and my board and management team expects me to bring the best every day. Part of bringing the best is having the best folks. If you’re systematically excluding any talent from consideration, it’s hard to argue you’ve got the best. Some people think diversity means compromise, but that’s just not true.

Q: Do you believe the legal industry is moving in the right direction with diversity?

I’d say yes, but slowly. Certainly not fast enough. This thing goes in fits and spurts. And there are periods of time where we make some progress, and then it stalls and we backslide. There are all sorts of factors for that: the economy, the way businesses and law firms are structured. But at the end of the day, the progress is slow and disappointing in my view.

Q: What advice do you have for young in-house lawyers looking to eventually become GC?

This is obvious, but it’s worth stating: Know your craft. You’re not going to get anywhere if you don’t know your stuff. Beyond that, I think being curious, being open to learning, and learning to listen are an important aspect of this too. Too many folks get tunnel vision, and I don’t think that will help your chances of advancement, whether it’s to GC or other positions. And this may sound odd, but being self-aware is very important. If you don’t know what your tendencies are in stressful situations, if you don’t know what your strengths are, it’s hard to shore up your weaknesses.