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Harvard schmarvard. Check your Yale law degree at the door. These may have been among the golden credentials that landed you in GE’s legal department. But once there, the real education begins. For aspiring GCs, GE legal has become a launch pad. Under GC Ben Heineman’s tutelage, alumni say, they learned valuable lessons about assembling, organizing, and running a legal department that attracts the best talent and hums along. Some examples from a survey of GE grads: Theodore Boehm, formerly GC of GE Aircraft Engines and now a justice on the Indiana Supreme Court: “Certainly the most impressive experience was seeing how an enormous organization like [GE's legal department] can be led, and how cultural change can be effected by a leader. … I learned the importance of examining the way work is done, both in terms of how people interact with one another as well as the statistical controllability of a repetitive human activity (like filing appeals). Heineman certainly set both an example and an expectation in terms of professionalism and in terms of leadership.” Robert Heath, formerly associate GC at GE Medical Systems, and now GC of Briggs & Stratton Corporation, a Milwaukee-based engine manufacturer: “I can’t ascribe these ideas directly to Ben Heineman, but they do reflect his philosophy: “It’s important to be a proactive part of the business team, as opposed to a contrarian or someone who offers negative comments. “When hiring outside counsel, focus on personality and people, not law firms. There are a wide variety of matters, so it’s important to fit the style of outside counsel with the matter you’re trying to get help on.” Jeffrey Kindler, formerly head of litigation at GE, and now both GC of McDonald’s Corporation and CEO of its subsidiary, Boston Market: “Ben always insisted on the highest standards of excellence in filling important jobs. I learned from him and from GE generally that you must always have the self-confidence to surround yourself with the very best people you can find and that you must never compromise on quality.” Nancy Loeb, formerly second-ranking antitrust counsel at GE, and now chief antitrust counsel at Honeywell International Inc.: “I learned that it was important to understand the business and its goals, and to structure sound legal advice that enables the business to accomplish those goals lawfully.” William Lytton, formerly GC of GE Aerospace, and now GC of International Paper Company: Lytton says he subscribes to the GE mantra: ” ‘We’re doing very well, how can we do better?’ “At GE there is a constant, unrelenting commitment to excellence and being the best, and creativity, doing new things. “Hire very good people, let them know what your goals, strategies, and values are, and give them the freedom to do their job. By bringing together pretty smart people, and not trying to micromanage them, you stimulate intellectual courage and energy to do new things. I try to do that at IP.” Maura Abeln Smith, formerly GC of GE Plastics, and now GC and chief restructuring officer at Owens Corning: “What Ben did was to build a law firm with the best people he could find in each of the specialized areas of law, and made sure that when he brought an issue up to be resolved, it was looked at by a specialist. There was a focus on specialization — thorough issue analysis by best practice specialists. This not only cuts down on outside counsel costs, but, more importantly, enhances the level of practice for everybody. “Ben’s way is not standard: The usual is to get [in-house counsel] who the business people like, a good general practitioner, then go outside for specialist support.”

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