A Business Advisor with Legal Expertise

Dole Food Company, Vice President, General Counsel & Corporate Secretary –  Jared Gale joins Next-Normal Leadership Series host – Liam Brown, Elevate’s CEO, to reflect on the general counsel role and the opportunity to be a business adviser with legal expertise. 

As an early career firm lawyer, Jared recalls working with a General Counsel fully engaged in the company’s business, participating in non-legal business decisions. After joining Dole Food Company, Jared similarly approached his inhouse role, advancing to the top legal position as General Counsel. 

Jared explained that to represent a company, one should understand their customers’ business, how they operate, and what’s important to them, their goals, what they want to accomplish, or protect.

Click on the links below to see what we have covered in this episode:

  • [00:55] – How Jared rose from Litigation associate to General Counsel of Dole Food Company.
  • [02:26] – Jared’s different roles at Dole.
  • [06:07] – Mission of the Dole Food company explained.
  • [07:34] – Every business has its footprint – Take responsibility for your effect.
  • [09:54] – How has the changing environment changed how a CEO thinks about the law department?
  • [12:06] – Advice to younger lawyers – Don’t Silo yourself.
  • [15:03] – How is Jared encouraging legal departments to see their roles as a moral compass for the company?
  • [17:21] – Jared explained the areas of improvements that could help the Law school experience produce better lawyers and produce better society contributors.
  • [21:47] – Understand how to approach a situation in challenging times for greater collaboration.
  • [24:18] – “Leadership in tough times requires…”

Enjoy!

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Podcast Transcript

Note: This transcript has been adjusted to improve readability. Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and human transcribers. The context and more than 95% of the actual transcript have been preserved. We strongly encourage you to listen to the audio file.

 

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.

“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.”

– Jared Gale

Liam: It sounds like you don’t think that the role of general counsel, or the law department, is restricted to a silo. How does the glass ceiling of being a general counsel look to you today? Or maybe how do you think it looks to most general counsel today, compared to how did you think it looked earlier in your career? And then what advice would you give then to other younger lawyers when they take that phone call from the headhunter that you took back in the day? Because you didn’t really know, “Oh, isn’t it gonna be a bit like what I do today, but in house?” I mean I’m oversimplifying.

Jared: That’s accurate. When I was approached with the job that’s exactly what I thought. I can keep doing the same thing. Do it for a company instead of doing it for a law firm being hired by a company. In my time at a law firm when I interacted with general counsels, there was a wide range – based on what I could see, a wide range of what those interactions looked like. And I saw general counsels that really did just focus on their silos. Their legal issues and others ran the company.

There were companies that we dealt with that didn’t have a general counsel because they’d made the decision that it wasn’t worth the money to bring that in house and they would outsource everything. And they didn’t have that legal expertise at the table when they were making decisions.

And there was one general counsel that I can remember distinctly that approached it differently. I could tell that he was very much engaged in the business of the company. The goals, the mission of the company, and not just solving the legal problems that happen to come up. He carried himself as though he was a C-suite executive making real decisions about what the future of his company. And that impressed me. I liked that. And I hadn’t really thought about that in terms that, “Hey, I wanna be like this guy someday.”

Looking back on it, I was attracted to the way that he approached his business. And so, when I started working for Dole and getting into that similar type of role, I used him as an example approaching it the same way and grew into the role I am now with that kind of mindset that I saw him take with his company.

Getting back to what advice I would give to younger lawyers that are just starting out, I think it would be just that. Don’t silo yourself. Don’t look at yourself as just needing to check a box and to provide the – review that contract and send it off and say, “Yeah. It looks good from a legal perspective.” Try to look at the contract from a holistic perspective. If all you’re doing is reviewing contracts, try to look at the contract for what is the business trying to accomplish. And if all the legal aspects of it all line-up, maybe there’s other things you can spot that businesspeople that asked you to review it might not have thought of.

When you do that, and when you approach whatever it is, whatever project it is you’re working on, then those businesspeople start to see you as a value add to their process and not just them being able to say that, “Yeah. I had legal look at this and it’s okay.” It’s, “Hey, we should get legal involved because they can help improve this from a business perspective, not just a legal perspective.”

Liam: I always assume it’s more fulfilling for the law department if they are actually involved in the business. Therefore, it’s really important that the general counsel models that behavior. Beyond modelling that behavior, how do you encourage the individuals in the department, including sometimes the individuals that don’t actually want to change, and the benefits of being more business-minded and business oriented, what are the kinds of things that you can do to help imbed that in the department?

Jared: Sure. I think the legal department generally has a unique position to be the moral compass of a company. It’s easy for a lawyer to answer the question, “Can we do it, yes or no?” And leave the, “Should we do it, yes or no,” to the businesspeople. But I try to answer both questions when I’m faced with a problem, the can and the should.

And I make sure that I empower the attorneys that work with me in the legal department to do the same thing, when we have either one-on-ones, or when we get together as a legal department. And we have lawyers spread throughout the world. When we get together as a legal department to help them see their roles as being a moral compass for the company, to answer that question, “Should we do it,” not just, “Can we do it?”

I also try to do the same thing with the leaders around the world of the company and the different divisions that these other lawyers directly service so they can see their lawyers in that same role. So that it’s not only the lawyers are trying to inject that into the business process, but the business leaders are turning to them for that advice to invite them to strategy meetings, to invite them to periodic business updates, even when they’re only talking about financial issues. I’ve encouraged them to have their lawyers sit in on those meetings so that they can understand what’s going on in the business. So that they can have a voice at the table.

Liam: I’ve never thought about the fact that if you don’t have someone like you that actually coaches the executives, if you work at a place where you’re not asked your point of view about something beyond your silo of expertise, then you don’t feel invited. That is an important role for a general counsel. And it’s not just you leading the team, it’s also you educating the customer of the business on the potential that your team has. Is there an aspect of business leadership in general that you didn’t get taught at law school?

Jared: To be honest with you, I can’t recall being taught much of anything with regard to business leadership at law school. I think that law school can teach that there are things that you learn that help in the business environment, being able to think on your feet, to be able to be a voice for your opinion, to argue a point, that ability to advocate for a position is very useful in the business context. With regard to being a voice at the table for the good of the company, for the should question versus the can question. If you can’t articulate that position well and think on your feet and be an advocate for what you’re trying to accomplish, having a seat at that table isn’t going to provide much of a benefit to anyone.

Liam: Lawyers are successful contributors to society. How much more could be achieved, could they contribute, if all of that capability, intellect, energy actually had something more multidisciplinary or something more – either at law school or earlier in the professional experience?

“Lawyers are successful contributors to society. How much more could be achieved, could they contribute, if all of that capability, intellect, energy actually had something more multidisciplinary or something more – either at law school or earlier in the professional experience?”

– Liam Brown

Jared: Very deep question. I think you’re right. That there are real areas where improvements could be made to help the law school experience produce better lawyers and produce better contributors to society. I think that the traditional law school experience has a tendency to produce people that are focused on winning. Winning the deal. Winning the argument. Winning whatever it is they’re facing.

In my experience, at least some law schools have seen that and are making real changes to address it by bringing in other disciplines in the University with which they’re affiliated to allow law students to take classes in other areas. Bring in professors for clinical work. Things like that should be more a part of a law school experience.

To your other point, I think that getting experience outside of law school is important as well. The friends that I had in law school, there was a big difference between those that came directly from undergrad and those people that had experience. And I was actually one of the ones that came straight from undergrad. And I was more interested, I should say, in those people that had experience outside of just school by the time they came to law school because they had more to offer. Because they had a different view on what the world was like. And I think that real improvement could be made.

There is a lot of talent going to law school these days. People see it as a path to lots of different things, whether it’s politics or lawyer making lots of money in a fancy office in New York. They see that as a clear path to get to that area. Whereas, if you just go to undergrad and then try to get a job somewhere, there’s so many jobs to choose from, so many paths to take, that it’s a lot harder to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Whereas going to law school you see the light at the end of the tunnel is, “I’m a lawyer doing law work.”

Liam: So, I’m not from the legal profession traditionally, and yet have operated inside the legal industry. And I’ve seen therefore there’s so much opportunity for people. And I’m lucky because I work with a lot of people who perhaps before they thought their career options were constrained or had a glass ceiling to it.

I believe we will see more CEOs that actually have legal training or legal background as more and more general counsel like you frankly step into that and it just becomes more business as usual as opposed to when the next CEO recruiting process is discussed around the board room, I’d like to think that there would be a pause and think about, “Okay. But what experience and contribution would we get? What leadership traits does this person have?”

I respect some of your time. Let me pivot over to just the last few things that I’d like to ask. I’m gonna ask you two questions. I’m gonna assume that you’re a reader because I just assume that lawyers read a lot. As you stepped increasingly into your role of managing people and managing a department, what was a book or some books that you’ve read that you think of as, “You know what? That book or those books really informed or inform how I operate as an executive.” Second question is leadership in tough times requires – dot-dot-dot?

Jared: Two good questions. So, the first thing that comes to mind when you ask about what books have informed my leadership, one of my favorite philosophers is Soren Kierkegaard. And I loved his thinking approach to life topics that he covered. And one set of essays comes to mind where he’s looking at an issue and he takes that issue and writes approaches to it from four distinct viewpoints. And he does it very intentionally to show how one event can be seen in completely different ways by different people depending on what your viewpoint is.

And understanding that truth that people see the world very differently has been a big benefit to me in my career, especially when whether it’s sitting across the table from another company that we’re trying to do a deal with. Or sitting in a board meeting where we’re trying to solve a problem. Or sitting in a management meeting where we’re trying to solve a problem or deciding which path to move forward on.

Understanding that the people around that table are all seeing the same thing in a very different way. Stepping back a little bit when you’re in the middle of that conversation and thinking about, “How is she looking at it? How is he looking at it? Why is she seeing it this way,” versus, “Why is he seeing it that way?” I found that doing that, taking that simple action, has, at times, allowed me to bridge gaps that are there when people I can see clearly that people are just talking past each other. I’ll then interject into the conversation and say, “No. Look. Let’s focus on what we’re trying to solve.” And phrase the question in such a way that we can all be on the same page and address it collaboratively.

I think that’s been a great benefit to me. And I think that Kierkegaard’s writings, that specific writing – and unfortunately I can’t tell you the name of the essay off the top of my head because it’s been a while since I’ve read it, but that stuck with me as a big benefit to how to interact with people and how to bring collaboration to a situation.

Liam: That’s definitely the deepest answer that I’ve heard. The thing that if I would paraphrase that, when I think about the principles that we use in our companies, we talk about focusing on the situation or the behavior, not the person. And it’s not quite the same, but there is something in there about your point which is that the same data set, the same fact pattern, can be seen differently. And it’s quite easy to personalize it. And we get away from the fact pattern.

And when I feel myself falling into that dispute, the difference between someone – and you can almost feel that kinda welling up inside you. “I’m disagreeing with you. I’m not entering into conflict with you.” It actually doesn’t matter what the topic was that kinda got us into that emotional zone. That’s something that sounds like I should read. My colleagues that will listen to this will be like, “Liam, you need to read some Kierkegaard.”

The last question. Leadership in tough times requires – dot-dot-dot?

Jared: I think leadership in tough times, I think it requires flexibility. I think it requires creativity. Being willing to do things differently. If you’re in the middle of a tough time, it’s most likely the business as usual isn’t gonna work. The approach to those times has to change as well. So, that’s where that flexibility and creativity I think come into play. You’ve gotta be willing to break out of, “Well, this is how we’ve always done it. This is how we’ve always approached it.” You’ve gotta be flexible to break out of that and you’ve gotta be creative to think of new ways to approach that issue.

Liam: Jared, thank you. I mean it’s a fascinating conversation. The most philosophical conversation I think I’ve had. And I really appreciate you contributing your thoughts about leadership and law. So, thank you.

Jared: I’ve enjoyed the conversation. I appreciate it, Liam. It’s been a pleasure.

About the Author(s)

Jared Gale is a Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary of the Dole Food Company. This interview was conducted by Liam Brown, Chairman, and CEO of Elevate.

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