Gitanjali Pinto Faleiro is an Oxford law graduate, prior VP & AGC at Goldman Sachs, with stints at two international law firms as an attorney. Having climbed up the corporate ladder from being an associate attorney to becoming a named C-suite executive and GC, Gitanjali is well-versed in the intricacies of the corporate legal domain. Her practice has predominantly been in mergers and acquisitions and regulated capital markets.
In a recent conversation with SpotDraft, she spoke about how the role of a GC has evolved over the years.
“The present-day GC is expected to grow beyond conventional roles and responsibilities and wear multiple hats to eventually become a business enabler.”
This is even more true when you become a C-suite executive. Read on to find out what her role looks like today and what advice she has for GCs who want to break into the C-suite.
The biggest challenge for GCs
“GCs need to earn the credibility of the business leaders so that the business stays close to legal, stays compliant, and so Legal doesn’t get dismissed as ‘the department of no.’”
At her previous workplace, Goldman, the culture and the tone from the top said, “When legal says no, it means no - there’s no defying them. They’re true business partners, and you’d be better advised to follow their recommendation.” Over the last four years, she has successfully continued to maintain that mindset at Greenhill as well, and here’s what helped her do it:
Having the maturity and the ability to speak from experiences is key. You can’t do it as easily early in your career - after you’ve seen about 15-20 years of transactional experience, you’re in a much better position to reinforce that culture.
You can treat a contract as a piece of paper, but when there’s a person on the other side of a contract who wants to accomplish something, your tact has to be completely different.
#3 Listening well
By listening well, you can understand the motivation behind the person you’re advising. This way, you can come up with better solutions that help them achieve what they want while staying compliant.
Try not to change everything at once - go slow to go far. People have a natural tendency to repel change at times, even when it’s for the better.
Breaking into the C-suite - Five things to keep in mind
#1 Build credibility with key executives
"Be patient. It is not an entitlement - it’s an earned privilege," says Faleiro. It can take time to build the credibility and trust needed to take on a leadership role in the C-suite.
"Seek to build your credibility with the CEO and the CFO," advises Faleiro. GCs should work on earning the trust of the company's top executives by building relationships, demonstrating their value to the company, and showing that they have a deep understanding of the business and its goals.
#2 Be data-driven
“Most C-Suite executives bank on data and hard metrics and not word-of-mouth. When you have certain metrics that shed light on how legal teams have contributed to growing the revenue stream of the company, it becomes easier for the GC to make business cases.”
Faleiro recommends tracking metrics such as "How many contracts have I negotiated? How much money have I saved? How much legal risk have I managed? How many regulatory audits have we responded to? And how much money have we spent on outside counsel?" By being data-driven, GCs can demonstrate their value to the business and show how their work contributes to the company's bottom line.
#3 Understand that you have duties beyond just knowing the law
As a C-suite officer, Faleiro emphasizes that “GCs have actual duties to the company that go beyond just knowing the law." GCs in the C-suite should be prepared to take on a broader range of responsibilities and be involved in the strategic direction of the company.
"There's no point in being legally compliant if you have employees with bad reputations or you have unhappy employees, or you have employees who are not doing well from a wellness perspective," says Faleiro.
As a GC in the C-suite, it is important to think about the broader impact of your work and to consider the well-being and satisfaction of all stakeholders, including employees, customers, and shareholders.
#4 Make sure legal stays top of mind
Faleiro advises GCs to "meet key executives regularly - it’s okay if all you do at times is drop by for 5 minutes to say hello - having regular 1:1s with board members, other senior colleagues, and executives is key."
“Above all, be very cognizant of your environment, your audience, and the dynamics within your company and act accordingly.”
#5 Be proactive
”You can either be part of the cleanup crew or do stuff to avoid that cleanup situation altogether." Faleiro advises GCs to be proactive and to anticipate potential problems before they arise. This can involve working closely with other departments to identify and mitigate risks, and being proactive in identifying and addressing potential legal issues.
By being proactive, GCs can help to avoid costly and time-consuming problems down the line and contribute to the overall success of the company.
“The role of the GC at the end of the day is what you make of it. You can either stay in your lane or make the most of opportunities that come your way.”
Realize that once you join the C-suite, your role goes beyond being the “Lawyer-in-chief” - you now answer to the board and the CEO, and you’re a named public executive. Success at this point means ensuring the business does well - which often entails going beyond the job description.