Legal team helps navigate through economic crisis
In times of global financial uncertainty, the Novartis legal team takes an innovative approach - serving as both a protective guardian and a proactive partner to the business.
Thomas Werlen, Novartis General Counsel, says recent adversity in the world economy underscores the value of lawyers delivering top-quality service to help the company's businesses manage risks and enhance performance through sound decision-making.
Novartis has benefitted from overhauling its legal team three years ago, moving from fragmented units into one organization. This team is made up of lawyers with diverse backgrounds who are unified by an innovative culture, Werlen said in a keynote speech this fall at the Legal Week Corporate Counsel Forum Europe.
Building a winning team
The new approach began with a commitment to transform Novartis Legal's organization, people and culture, Werlen says. With about 250 lawyers worldwide, the legal team has built a shared culture based on three principles:
- High performance with integrity - The legal team works with business units to support financial results and growth, while also protecting the company's assets and reputation.
- Standards of legal excellence - In this global organization, a single set of high standards guides lawyers as they balance the roles of managing risk and supporting the business.
- Diversity and inclusion - Novartis Legal embraces diversity in styles of working and thinking, as well as gender, age and heritage. Diverse lawyers share their specialized knowledge and resources, increasing productivity and quality of service.
Guarding against a crisis
As the financial crisis increases risks of litigation, contract issues and regulatory intervention for all companies, Novartis Legal is committed to going beyond "emergency assistance," Werlen says. The legal team has a rigorous focus on prevention and resolution of issues.
"Companies should build a fence at the top of a cliff, instead of putting ambulances at the bottom of the cliff," Werlen told fellow lawyers at the forum.
The guardian strategy is supported by other companies' recent experiences. Michael Williams, executive vice president and general counsel of Sony Electronics, and Ian Jameson, managing director and European corporate counsel of Lehman Brothers, gave colleagues at the forum behind-the-scenes accounts of recent crises. For Sony the crisis was the 2006 recall of millions of laptop batteries, and for Lehman it was the 2008 bankruptcy filing that ignited the global financial meltdown.
Williams and Jameson said both a proactive approach to risk management and advance preparation for crises are paramount, especially amid heightened litigation risk.
Partnering with the business
Integrity and ethical values are the foundation of sustainable performance for Novartis. Associates work together to implement sound policies for business conduct, regularly bringing recognition to the company for its global commitment to ethics.
Consistent with the performance-oriented Novartis culture, the corporate lawyer's role has progressed from mere adviser to being an accountable business partner, Werlen says. Having the right lawyers doing the right things in the right place is critical.
For example, the legal team brought its commercial and merger and acquisition expertise together with business divisions to develop cutting-edge deal structures for biotech companies, making Novartis a preferred partner for development of innovative new compounds.
Novartis Legal operates as an active participant in the business, while providing balance and objectivity to safeguard the company's long-term success.