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Nicole: Hello. This is Nicole Giantonio, the Head of Global Marketing at Elevate. The Podcast episode you are about to hear is the second episode in our Next Normal Leadership Series featuring Elevate’s Chairman and CEO Liam Brown talking with general counsel from leading organizations, law firm managing partners, and law companies’ CEOs about leading during this time of change.
Today’s guest is Jared Gale, Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary at Dole Food Company. Jared reflects on the role of general counsel today, the opportunity to be a business adviser with legal expertise. General counsel, as a true C-suite executive, with a seat at the table when business decisions are being made.
Liam: So, Jared, thank you for making the time to speak today. Looking forward to our conversation about leadership in law. Would you mind, just so that I can get to know you a little bit, talk about the arc of the personal and professional journey that led you to the role that you have today.
Jared: Sure. Well, nice to be here, Liam. That could be a very broad question but let me start with law school. So, graduation from Law School, Didn’t know much about what I wanted to do with my legal degree outside of just the typical lawyers go to a courtroom and do lawyer stuff, right? So, joined a law firm and focused on litigation. I was there for about five years or so. Dabbled in corporate work a little bit, but mainly focused on litigation.
And about five-and-a-half years into it was approached by a headhunter looking for a director of litigation for a Fortune 500 company with a well-known brand. That was very interesting to me. So, I took the interview. It turned out to be Dole Food Company. Was hired on as their director of litigation, focusing on broad global big money litigation issues that the company was facing at that time. And from there, expanded my role over the years. And through a series of various events and restructurings and changes in the company, I think some luck of course, and I am here in the general counsel role.
Liam: Okay. Thank you. I’d like to explore a little bit of the luck in my next question perhaps. So, leading to it, something that’s jumped out at me. Because I prepare for these sessions. And one of the things I do is read up about the person I’m gonna speak to. When I read your Linked In profile, which you’re probably now thinking, “Oh, God.” What did you write down about yourself? You wrote, “I approach these roles as a business advisor with legal expertise rather than simply providing legal advice.” And that resonates with me.
I think about as a CEO of a business. And then I think about the general counsel that I work with. One of the things that I and my other business colleagues look for is we want to have a business advisor that sits with us who has legal expertise in the same way that someone has accounting or sales and marketing or people. But it’s not something that you see many General Counsel proclaim. So, tell me a bit about why is that important enough for you to actually describe yourself in that way?
Jared: No. That’s a good question. So, when I started at the law firm, one of the things that I really loved about the litigation aspect of it is the fact that I was working with new clients all the time of a wide variety of industries. I wasn’t focused on one specific type of litigation, but did just general business litigation, which gave me an opportunity to be introduced to lots of different kinds of companies.
And the thing I liked about that is in representing these companies you have to really understand their business and understand how they operate, what’s important to them, what their goals are, what they want to accomplish or protect against in the litigation. Particularly because most litigation, as you know, settles. And so, in any kind of a settlement discussion, it really is largely a business discussion. So, that was something that was very interesting to me and helped keep my interest alive in practicing law.
And so, when I moved onto Dole Food Company, although I was still doing litigation, I looked at it as an opportunity to not only learn about a business as it relates to the litigation I was handling, but to learn about the business overall. To really get into the details of how Dole Food Company operates the various locations in the world, the different logistics in supply chains that it has to deal with. And that led me into looking for opportunities to expand my role outside of just the litigation cubbyhole, so to speak, into other areas of business. And I was successful at doing so.
And so, I’ve always had that in the back of my head or as kind of a driving principal. I like it. I think it’s a good way for General Counsels to approach the business. It came more naturally to me and kept me engaged and excited about my job. Maybe that’s part of the luck that I mentioned before.
Liam: Speaking to luck, as an outsider I look at Dole and the choices that businesses make. And maybe luck is kind of making sure you’re in the right place at the right time to be lucky. Coming in as a someone with a litigation background, but then seeing all the corporate work that you’ve been part of in the journey that Dole has been through, how have you ensured that you’re lucky?
Jared: I think it’s a combination of being in the right place at the right time, being able to capitalize on the opportunities that come to you. A lot of that is fostered by relationships, by hard work, by a willingness to get out of one’s comfort zone and to try new things. Those are the first things that come to mind. You can be lucky, but it doesn’t go anywhere because you don’t capitalize on that lucky break that you might otherwise get.
In my experience at least by fostering relationships with the business, by being seen as an asset to the company, as a team player, as someone that can be trusted that is there for the good of the company and the good of the people that we’re not only serving, but that work with me. And then being willing to get in there and do the hard work. Not being afraid to actually draft the first draft of a contract. Just do it. I can make a copy just as easy as my assistant. If I need to go make some copies, then I’ll go make some copies.
Liam: And those are the things that other people that you work with notice. Talk a little, if you will, about how the mission of the company makes – impacts how you think about your role and perhaps how you think about the mission of the law department.
Jared: Sure. So, one thing that I love about working for Dole Food Company is that – I view us at least, and I’m not sure it’s very controversial, providing a very good thing to the world. Providing good, wholesome food to people. And that gives me a sense of pride in the work that I’m doing. I’ve been approached about working for other companies. And they were interesting opportunities and would have been career advancements, but compared to what I’m doing now, I never thought hard about taking those jobs.
It’s nice to be part of something that’s positive. Good for the world. The mission of the company: You have to provide wholesome and healthy fruits and vegetables to the world. And to benefit not only those markets that we serve, but also the production areas that we source from to help those communities thrive and progress and help our workers to live healthy, prosperous lives.
All those things are positive, but like any company there’s improvements that can be made all the time. And I don’t wanna come across as Dole being a perfect company, because we’re not. We can always make improvements. But I think overall we try to do what’s right and our mission is a positive mission.
Liam: There’s a lot going on in the world right now. Questioning, examination of institutions, systems, structures. This might be easier working inside a company like Dole to answer, but how do you feel about the role of business in society? Separate? Part of? Inform how you operate as a professional, as an executive, as a leader?
Jared: Important questions to think about, especially in these times. Speaking for myself, not for the company, personally I think that businesses have a key role to play in the social issues. Currently there are serious social issues that we are facing that are coming to a head. And there have been in the past and there will be in the future. And I think businesses play a key role in that. Businesses are not only – be sources of income and employment and a lot of times insurance and benefits and whatnot for individuals that live in society, but they also have a great impact, a great potential to have a big footprint in society.
For us, for Dole Food Company, one of our biggest footprints is environmental. We’re farmers, right? So, we have to take care of the land that we farm on. And we employ a lot of people. And so, we needed to take care of the people that we employ in the communities that we work in. And whether you’re a farming company, an agricultural company like Dole, or any company, you have a footprint. You have an effect. The communities that you are in and the social issues that those communities are facing really should be viewed as issues that your business is facing. And those should be addressed.
Liam: I was talking to some of my colleagues. I have quite strong views about the benefits of having lots of different points of view around the table and lots of different experiences around the table. And so, with that, I have a lot of colleagues who expect me to communicate more about this externally. And I’m trying to create the system where people can belong here and then they can have their own points of view and they can communicate externally so that people see our company having lots of different points of view.
But that has led to, “Liam, we really want you to be the person that speaks to these things.” I’m like, “You know I really wanna create the system. I wanna protect the system.” I don’t wanna be – I’m not sure this is an appropriate term to use, but I don’t wanna be patriarchal, “This is what Elevate stands for. This is what we’re all about.” However, I will say, I really strongly believe along the lines that you’ve talked about, the role of business in the community is more important than ever. And we, as the leaders, executives in the business, actually have a really big impact on the footprint that we have.
Jared: It is important the conversation is being had. It’s natural for this conversation to be triggered by what’s going on the world. And then that hasn’t always been the case.
Liam: With everything that’s been going on, both economically, socially, and from a healthcare perspective, changed or developed the way that the CEO thinks about the law department? The role of the law department, the purpose of the law department, and the leader of the law department, the general counsel?
Jared: I have had a good relationship with the CEO of Dole. So, I’m not sure that it’s changed anything as much as it’s strengthened the relationship that we have. We work closely together and the situation that we’ve been in over the last few months with the virus, with the social unrest, with everything that’s going on, the economic turmoil, it’s given us an opportunity to work even closer together on solving these problems.
The crisis management team, so to speak, at Dole Food Company has been very actively engaged over the last few months dealing with these issues, trying to keep our supply chains open, keep the fruit and vegetables flowing to the grocery stores so there’s not empty shelves. And dealing with all the issues that come up in that process, the working relationship that I have with the CEO has helped facilitate that crisis management so that we can do it in a positive way as a business advisor with legal expertise. I’ve positioned myself with our CEO as having that role.
So, he turns to me for that advice, even business-type advice, even when it doesn’t have much to do with legal issues. A real time example, just today he is on a plane going to visit with a customer. In the meantime, we had an employee in the tropics whose father passed away from COVID-19. And he sent an email to our CEO asking what could have been done better. The CEO turned to me to help him with the response. If all I was doing was checking boxes and saying, “Yeah, legally you can do this,” or, “No, legally you can’t do that. Good luck in making your decision,” he wouldn’t turn to me for advice and for help and for engagement on dealing with crisis like that that come up on a daily basis in our company.
And those are the kind of things that I enjoy as far as being engaged in the business. I don’t want to be the legal robot that’s checking a box. I want to help the business grow and help it be better, help us improve, and help us accomplish our mission.