As the 2016 ACC Value Champion, the Staples Australia and New Zealand legal team, was recognised for achieving greater efficiencies around strategic alignment, work allocation and process improvement.

“Although Staples sells one in every four pieces of paper purchased in Australia, the company has undergone a reinvention, as business in our core category of products is slowly declining,” says Troy Swan, Head of Legal and Company Secretary.

“We have been working to generate new revenue streams in new categories that support the needs of our existing clients. These new categories were like a number of smaller businesses within a larger one. Over the past year, we have focused on equipping our sales team with support, confidence, and an entrepreneurial spirit that will allow them to grow those businesses exponentially,” Swan says.

Some examples include cleaning and facility supplies, kitchen and canteen food and supplies, safety products, technology, and office furniture. Leading a cultural shift away from risk aversion and toward the enablement of entrepreneurialism and innovation, the four-person legal team educated the sales force on legal matters and simplified contracting.

Changing the departmental stance from risk aversion to risk tolerance and management, the lawyers worked with the sales team to implement innovative commercial arrangements with corporate customers, designed to increase revenue and promote the Staples brand, especially in non-traditional categories.

Quoting the words of Staples, Inc., General Counsel and Company Secretary Michael Williams, Swan says, “We don’t want to be the ‘Department of No.’ We wanted to encourage and enable the new lines of business with systems, processes, and plain-language practical advice and contracts.”

As part of the efforts the legal department also created easy electronic access for legal advice for employees, and educated and empowered the sales team through training.

Gaining alignment with the priorities of the business was key to the success of these efforts; while it’s critical, it need not be onerous or formal, Swan says. “I’m a big supporter of catching up with clients, finding informal opportunities to learn what they want and what they may not be happy about.”

They are certainly happy about these results: The legal department has cut its workload on low-risk transactional services by 40 percent, positioning the in-house team to take on more high-value projects and leading to a reduction in outside legal spend by more than 50 percent.