As the winner of the ‘Litigation Individual of the Year’ at the 2016 Global Counsel Awards, we asked Randy Boyce, general counsel of Foster Farms, his opinion on what it takes to be a successful in-house counsel, the best way to advise leadership and what winning the award meant to him.
Describe your current role (responsibilities, size of team, structure).
As the general counsel I supervise of all of the legal and regulatory matters affecting the company. In terms of the structure of my team, I rely heavily on long-standing relationships with key outside counsel, and I have a labour lawyer, a worker’s compensation lawyer and an environmental expert reporting to me.
What led you to a career in-house?
My first in-house job was with Nestlé. I wanted to transition from full-time litigation to a role that would allow me to be involved in many areas of the law, with a focus on M&A. During my seventh year with Nestlé a headhunter called and asked if I would be interested in the position of general counsel for Foster Farms. The call came at an interesting time because I was facing a major relocation as part of my Nestlé career development. Initially, I indicated that I was not interested, but after a meeting with Foster Farms’ outgoing general counsel and Foster’s head of HR, I was intrigued by the opportunity. Here I am, 20 years later.
In your current role, what is the most challenging situation that you have faced? What are the most significant challenges that in-house lawyers are likely to face over the next few years?
Among my current challenges is working with a new chief executive officer (CEO), a new chief financial officer (CFO) and a new head of human resources. Bridging from the old to the new, while maintaining consistency and continuity in policies and practices, has its challenges.
In terms of the general challenges for in-house lawyers, I would say there is an ever-increasing exposure to litigation, along more intense and frequent meetings with government agencies with expanded agendas and greater resources. In the face of these challenges, it’s going to become increasingly difficult to run a business efficiently. General counsels will be under pressure to control spending, while at the time expanding the use of outside counsel to protect the company from increasing litigations and regulatory disputes.
Are there particular types of legal issues that you routinely refer to outside counsel? And what kind of matters do you tend to handle in-house?
All major litigation goes to outside counsel, irrespective of the area of law involved. Minor litigation, such as a simple contract dispute is handled in-house. We also handle minor regulatory investigations internally; however if there is a potential for significant financial exposure, then even minor matters will likely go to outside counsel – it really depends on the gravity of the issues involved.
What do you consider to be the essential qualities for a successful in-house lawyer?
You need a broad understanding of the business you are serving. It is essential to get out from behind your desk and talk to your colleagues who manage regulatory, sales, marketing, manufacturing and finance. Attend every internal meeting you have time for. You need good judgement, not just legal judgement, but general business judgement. You want to be able to express informed and useful opinions on all aspects of the business. I am fortunate to be on internal committees that have nothing to do with legal (eg, the purchasing and pricing of raw materials). The same qualities that make an individual a good lawyer are the same qualities that make an individual a good businessperson. As a general counsel you are in a position of power and leadership. Your decisions are not always going to be right, but your decisions must be sound, well-reasoned decisions that people respect.
What’s important for in-house counsel to consider when advising senior leadership?
When the company has a legal question I do not distinguish senior leadership from junior leadership, good advice is essential. Before providing advice, I have to have a clear understanding of what the issue is, what the time constraints are, what the budgetary limitations are, what the client’s risk tolerance is, and whether they are acting within the scope of their authority. Once I understand these factors, I try and put myself in the client’s shoes and try to assist them in achieving their goal.
How does the legal department contribute to your company’s growth?
We handle all the legal aspects of acquisitions, and we work closely with finance in identifying future potential acquisition targets. Of course, a core function of the legal department is to protect the company from regulatory and litigation actions by proactively working with our business colleagues to ensure compliance with the law. We pride ourselves on being good corporate citizens. When legal actions are brought against the company, we endeavour to manage the risk of loss to reasonable levels.
With regard to your industry, are there any significant developments worth highlighting?
We sell raw poultry. A big challenge for us, or for anybody selling a raw product – whether raw beef, chicken or vegetables – is how best to help the consumer safely handle and prepare a raw product. Industry and government want safe handling and preparation of raw proteins to be as simple as possible. One way to do that is to eliminate all bacteria on a raw product through irradiation, but many consumers (including me) do not want their raw proteins irradiated. So if we want great tasting, minimally processed raw protein products, we have to be mindful of the bacteria on raw products. My company is committed to producing the best fresh, natural, great-tasting poultry products that, when handled properly, are a key component of a great meal. Of course, we face many other issues that impact are company (eg, environmental, labour).
If not a lawyer, what would you be?
Most likely a businessman – probably in some sort of manufacturing, you know, producing something tangible. As an undergraduate I had a physics minor, and at one point I wanted to be a history professor concentrating on the history and philosophy of science. But I am very happy with my decision to pursue a career in law. These days the life of a history professor is not easy due to the lack of funding in the liberal arts.
What did winning a Global Counsel Award mean to you?
Being recognised and honoured by my peers was deeply satisfying. I have been fortunate to have a superb team of lawyers supporting me. This award is as much theirs as it is mine.
The purpose of the Global Counsel Awards is to identify those in-house counsel, both teams and individuals that excel in their specific roles. The primary aim is to reward lawyers for demonstrable achievements across the full spectrum of in-house responsibility, not simply those who have acted on high-profile transactions. To make a nomination for the 2017 awards please click here.
For further information about the awards, please visit www.globalcounselawards.com.