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Jeffrey Kindler is living the lawyer’s version of the American Dream. Through every stage of his career he’s grabbed the gold ring: clerk for a U.S. Supreme Court justice, partner at a Washington, D.C., power firm, in-house at General Electric Company under ace GC Ben Heineman, head of McDonald’s Corporation’s legal department. Now Kindler’s got another challenge. He is the new chief executive officer of Boston Market, charged with the task of rebuilding the troubled purveyor of home-style meals for harried suburbanites. McDonald’s bought the then-overextended and bankrupt chain in May and immediately put Kindler in charge. It’s up to him to show that a GC-turned-CEO can successfully lead a business to full recovery. It’s a tall order — one that Kindler’s got to fill while shuttling between Boston Market’s headquarters in Golden, Colo., and McDonald’s base near Chicago, where he retains executive oversight of McDonald’s law, safety, worldwide communications, government relations, and public and community affairs departments. How’s he going to do it? At least in terms of logistics, Kindler has deputized three law department heads to run the day-to-day operations. That helps free him to concentrate on Boston Market’s problems and potential. After a big IPO in the early 1990s, Boston Market planted its fast-food restaurants in shopping centers across the nation. The rapid expansion was spurred by an unusual franchising structure, with franchisees taking on geographic regions and getting financial assistance from the company. It was just this setup that some believe helped push the company into bankruptcy. Still, Boston Market did manage to become a household name — a valuable asset that Kindler is determined to save, although he would not divulge exact plans for revitalizing the now privately held subsidiary. Still, anyone interested in betting on whether Kindler will succeed needs only to look at his track record. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1980, where he was an editor on the law review. After clerking for federal appellate judge David Bazelon and Supreme Court justice William Brennan, he became a litigation partner at Washington, D.C.’s Williams & Connolly. In 1990 Kindler surprised his law firm colleagues by going in-house when it wasn’t prestigious to do so. But by going to GE, he had the opportunity to be schooled by Heineman, possibly the nation’s most respected general counsel. Kindler likens GE to a Harvard Law School for company lawyers. After a win in 1995 of a monumental price-fixing case — GE and De Beers were accused by the U.S. government of allegedly fixing the prices of industrial diamonds in Europe — Kindler says he felt ready to be a GC himself. Fellow lawyers frequently ask Kindler, 45, how he’s accomplished it all, and how they might do the same. I asked him precisely these questions this fall over a dinner in Golden at a local bistro. Kindler had wanted us to go to a Boston Market, and teased me about having traveled from New York City to interview him without ever having eaten at one, but we settled for neutral ground. Clearly he’s not only good at doing his homework, but also at getting others to do theirs. After returning home, I dutifully went to Manhattan’s only Boston Market outlet. Less than $12 bought dinner for two, and the food was surprisingly good. “Always has been,” said my happily stuffed dinner companion. “I have no idea why that company isn’t doing better.” Kindler says, in effect, “Just wait and see.” What follows is our conversation, edited for readability. CC: Let’s talk about the time when you first started as general counsel of McDonald’s, the largest restaurant chain in the world. Suddenly you had about 100 lawyers worldwide under you. That’s a quantum leap in management responsibilities. How does one prepare for it? Obviously you’re very smart. But you’re smart as a lawyer, as a litigator. You haven’t had a management course … or have you? Kindler: No. But I worked at GE for five years. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s like getting an advanced business degree. I went to the Jack Welch school of management. CC: With all due respect, no one graduating with an MBA is suddenly able to manage a hundred people. So many of my readers have been trained as lawyers, and they’re excellent lawyers. Then, suddenly, they’re managers. Kindler: Well, one comment I would make is: You don’t manage a hundred people. You lead a hundred people. It’s a huge difference. If you try to manage a hundred people, it’s a recipe for disaster. First you try to get high-caliber people who also are self-starters, take initiative — people who are very good at what they do. Then you give them some, what is hopefully, good guidance on what you expect of them. You establish a vision for what you’re trying to achieve. You give them the resources. Then you let them go. If you manage them, then what are they there for? You have to be able to leverage your own abilities. And the bigger the organization, the more you have to leverage. CC: What does that mean? Kindler: The multiplier effect. There are 15,000 people in Boston Market. I don’t even know them all, much less have the capacity to manage each one. Instead, I have to try to have the maximum impact on them by establishing a vision that they hopefully will find compelling. Set a direction that they can subscribe to. Establish some basic principles of how we want to operate. And all the while follow the example Justice Brennan set for me: Live those values myself, be a role model. CC: Earlier today I watched you get briefed by the head of operations on his progress and plans for Boston Market restaurants — one of your direct reports. And in that meeting … Kindler: Several things were happening at once. He was informing me, so that I know what’s going on, at a simple, basic level. At the same time, I was trying to support his enthusiasm — make him feel what I honestly believe: that he’s on the right track, he should feel good about it. So that he leaves the meeting motivated to continue what he’s doing, because he’s doing a fabulous job. I also was trying to give some guidance, some direction, about what I thought were the priorities and the time line. And I was asking a lot of questions, partly because it’s my nature. I think that’s part of my job, to challenge my direct reports, make sure that they’re considering things. Seeing how well they’ve thought through what they’re presenting to you. Somebody like the person we met with today is going to know 99 percent more than I’ll ever know about operations. I will never try to understand it all. That’s not my job. My job is to poke around enough to have a feeling that, behind my big curtain of ignorance, there’s stuff going on that I can have some confidence in. Leadership is pretty commonsensical. The most important thing is to be empathetic. If you’re trying to lead people, you have to put yourself in their shoes, and understand what’s motivating them, and what they’re thinking about. A lot of managers don’t do that. A lot of people don’t do that — either because they’re not good at it, or because they don’t want to. But if you want to lead people, you have to. You have to spend a lot of time empathizing. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea. A lot of people go into legal practice because that’s not their thing. CC: You learned how to head a law department during your time at McDonald’s. This January makes five years you’ve been there. And during that time you took on a lot of duties beyond legal: communications, government relations, community affairs, philanthropy. Kindler: They’re very related. In fact, they make so much sense that we brought all these functions together, except for legal, under one umbrella, which we called corporate relations. Since we’ve consolidated them, they’ve been much more effective, working together. It is a natural fit. If we had it to do all over again, we might have actually called this group, including legal, “social responsibility.” After all, this year Fortune magazine voted McDonald’s number one among the most admired companies, as a socially responsible company. McDonald’s has a tremendous legacy of giving back to the community. Ronald McDonald House Charities is the most prominent example. And in one way or another, almost everything in that — I’d maybe go so far to say, everything in that group — in some way has to do with corporate citizenship: behaving lawfully, responsibly, positive relationships with government agencies, with interest groups. CC: How did you convince the McDonald’s brass that you were ready and capable of being a CEO so that when the Boston Market opportunity came along, it was yours? Kindler: I sought ways to increase my exposure to other parts of the company; volunteered for assignments outside the legal area, including some strategic projects, a reorganization of our U.S. business and a major productivity initiative. I also volunteered to lead those related, but non-legal functions: communications, safety (food, toys, play places, facilities, etc.), philanthropy (including Ronald McDonald House Charities), government relations, and others. While I was not particularly trained or experienced in these areas — I was willing to learn — and risked making some mistakes in order to grow personally and professionally while advancing the goals of the company. Why I was made CEO of Boston Market is a better question for [GE CEO] Jack [Welch]. But I hope I earned his confidence by showing my leadership ability, a sound understanding of the financial and operational dimensions of the business, and a willingness to look for practical approaches to meet a growing business’s needs. CC: Let’s talk a little about the challenge facing you now as both GC of McDonald’s, the megacompany based in the Chicago area, and CEO of Boston Market, headquartered in Denver and no small company itself. You’ve got a very long list of responsibilities. How are you going to do it all? Kindler: When it comes to my McDonald’s responsibilities, I have a fantastic group of talented, hardworking officers who run each of these departments. They don’t need a lot of my supervision and guidance. They deal with the vast majority of what comes along. Ever since I arrived, over time, I have created a structure, so that basically everybody in the legal function reports to one of three officers — one I brought from the outside, and two of whom I promoted from within. Gloria Santona is the U.S. general counsel, and the corporate secretary. She’s been with McDonald’s for about 20 years and is an extraordinarily talented corporate lawyer. She has, for many, many years, had responsibility for the corporate functions, like finance, and treasury, and securities, and those transactions, that kind of thing. At the time that I took on Boston Market, I was both general counsel of the company and U.S. general counsel. Two hats. And to prove to you I’m not a complete lunatic, I did decide I needed to give up at least some of that. So I stepped aside as U.S. general counsel, and I made Gloria the U.S. general counsel. She is now the chief legal officer of the McDonald’s U.S. business, our biggest single business unit in the company, about 40 percent of our sales. She’s got division general counsel for each of the five McDonald’s U.S. divisions. She has the real estate lawyers, and the corporate attorneys, and she’s secretary to the board of directors. Then we have an international general counsel, also a terrific lawyer. An interesting fellow named Marco Pagni. He grew up in Belfast; his father is Italian, his mother is Irish. He speaks about 150 languages. He was the chief legal officer for our McDonald’s U.K. company, until about two or three years ago. When he came back to the United States he became the general counsel for the international businesses. So, all of the overseas lawyers, which number about 35, report on a dotted-line basis to him, and directly to their managing directors. Then the third member of this triumvirate is the deputy general counsel, Phil Rudolph from Gibson Dunn. He’s an antitrust lawyer, by background, whom I brought in about two years ago. He has responsibility for a variety of functions, including litigation, antitrust, purchasing, e-commerce, marketing. My role is executive oversight. I review the budgets, am the advocate of these departments to management, and management’s representative to these departments. I set these departments’ overall strategy. I might get involved, from time to time, in something that I can add value to. But for the most part, it’s an oversight responsibility. CEO of Boston Market is a hands-on, line responsibility. That’s the difference. CC: How are you are managing this dual role physically? Your family and home are in the Chicago area; you have important roles there. The Boston Market job is in Denver. What does your life look like? Kindler: It varies, but I try to be out here [in Denver] once a week, or once every two weeks. It’s not that scientific. I don’t really have that much of a routine yet. For example, this week I’m here all week. Last week, I was in Arizona on Boston Market business. There are some times, when I might have to spend a whole week in Oak Brook [McDonald's headquarters]. But even when I’m in Oak Brook [Ill.], I’m still mostly working on Boston Market. Boston Market takes about 90-95 percent of my time. There’s just a lot to do right now at Boston Market. And I believe that as the CEO of the business, I have a responsibility to dedicate myself nearly full time to this business. It’s not a part-time job. CC: When is your family moving out here? Kindler: Not anytime soon. My son just started ninth grade, a bad time to move. And we are a family-friendly company, starting at the top. Maybe at some point in the future. CC: If you were to advise lawyers in their thirties, forties, about how to follow in your footsteps and break the barrier into the business side, what would you tell them to do? Kindler: I guess if you’re in-house, and you want to participate in the business, the first thing you have to do is act like a business person — not always like a lawyer. There’s a big difference. You have to be practical. You have to be willing to take some risks. Lawyers, if I can generalize, tend to be a little bit more risk-averse. As a business person, sometimes you have to act on less information than you’d ideally like to have. It’s more like litigation than other areas of legal practice. If you want to make it to the other side, you have to demonstrate to your clients and colleagues that you have an aptitude for making business decisions and for leading people. In most places, once you’ve demonstrated those skills, they’ll welcome the opportunity to bring you to the business side. Because they’re always looking for people who can help. I have not had this much fun since I’ve tried cases. And there are actually a lot of similarities. Because when you try a case, Ed Williams [Edward Bennett Williams, founder of Williams & Connolly] used to say that to try a case was like producing a movie, and getting to be the producer, the writer, the director, the casting agent. You’re putting together, creating something. You’re leading people, making decisions. You have competition right there across the aisle from you — and you either win or lose. Business is a lot like that. You’re trying to create a vision for what you want the business to be, you’re trying to create something. You’re putting people in their right roles. You’re deciding who should do what, the same way you pick witnesses for a trial. And at the end, you have a pretty explicit feedback as to whether you’ve won and lost. Customers are coming in, or they’re not. So, I enjoy it because it’s creative. And I love people. As corny as that sounds, you’ve got to love people; it’s a people-intensive business.

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