From left: Glenn Ware, PwC; Pamela Passman, CREATe.org; Colleen Batcheler, ConAgra Foods
The 15th annual SuperConference kicked off in Chicago this week with the Global Lawyer Forum, a day dedicated to thought leaders discussing matters relevant to multinational corporate counsel. The opening panel featured Glenn Ware, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers; Colleen Batcheler, executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary at ConAgra Foods; and Pamela Passman, former corporate vice president and deputy general counsel, global corporate and regulatory affairs and current president and CEO of CREATe.org. The kickoff topic was “Turning Risk to an Advantage – A Global Perspective.”
Passman noted that risk was cited by CEOs as one of the biggest inhibitors to growth and observed that the pace of new regulation is a slow one. She cited Microsoft’s “privacy by design” initiative as an opportunity to get ahead of regulators, focusing on managing privacy before the government finalized its regulations.
Batcheler agreed, stating that ConAgra had taken steps to get ahead of food safety regulations, being confident that its policies would be in align with formalized regulation. She also talked about the current focus on executive pay, noting that some companies were already discussing the topic each proxy season while others were slower to address those matters.
Efforts to address risk are seen as a legal matter, but Ware pointed out that they can also be business differentiators. Batcheler noted that being ahead of the curve on regulatory matters can be seen as a reputational differentiator and can show customers that companies are striving to address matters of concern for consumers, such as privacy and food safety.
Each panelist described the biggest risks seen by multinational companies. Batcheler noted that corruption was a matter of concern, saying that supply chain transparency was a big matter to consider. She also noted cyber risk as a major risk as well. Passman added intellectual property—trade secrets, proprietary data—as a major point of concern, citing mobile devices as a source of risk in this area.
“You will need to go to your business leaders and make the case to protect what is most valuable,” says Passman, adding that most companies don’t even know what their “crown jewels” of trade secrets are or who has access to them. She cited the recent Sony hack as an example of a worst-case scenario.
Employment issues also play an important role in cybersecurity. “You have to drive a culture of open dialogue,” says Batcheler, noting that the leadership team in her legal organization has to be open-minded about the challenges that come from having a diverse workforce that has different perspectives on matters of technology and data security.
In addition, the IT group plays a huge part in this as well. “The CIO of our organization takes a big picture look at the issue of cybersecurity,” notes Batcheler, saying that systems are not perfect and that her IT team works to use people, processes and technology to address this concern.
This cross-functional work is key, says Passman, noting that legal, finance, HR and IT need to work together horizontally to address risks of all kinds. In Microsoft, for example, one in-house lawyer was assigned to the CIO to act as his or her lawyer, a standing position to manage all of the legal matters associated with that C-level position.
The topic of cyber risk was a dominant one in this panel and is a thread that will run throughout the 15th annual SuperConference. Check back here for more on this topic and all the latest from the event, and don’t forget to follow InsideCounsel on Twitter to get the latest.