Fred Krebs was president of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), the largest organisation of corporate lawyers in the world, for almost 20 years. Krebs made significant contributions to the governance landscape, advocating strongly for protection of the attorney-client privilege and multi-jurisdictional practice reform. He recently talked to deputy editor Aarti Maharaj about his experience.
1. Having been ACC president for 20 years, what were some of the challenges you encountered and how did you overcome them? While I was at ACC, we had a series of opportunities and good ideas that we managed to accomplish. One major challenge was the change in technology, and how you adapt to it. With new technology comes a different type of communication, and now there is no single way to communicate with members and others outside the organisation effectively: while some might react best to print, others might prefer email or regular fax. In order to overcome this, we collaborated with different departments at ACC and developed the best way to combine the technology.
2. Over the years, how have you helped to reshape the corporate governance landscape? By working for ACC, my team and I were able to support, strengthen and advance in-house counsel committees.Remember, most corporate secretaries and general counsel are in-house lawyers, and I provided additional support to them with resources such as continuing education, networking opportunities and advice. In a nutshell, we enable in-house lawyers to represent their clients efficiently and effectively, and serve as fully functioning members of the legal profession. This is one way I contributed to governance throughout my career at ACC.
3. How does ACC prepare corporate secretaries and in-house lawyers to deal with changing regulations? Regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act had a major impact on governance. Corporate secretaries need to know about the industry’s best practices, and [we helped them] stay informed and trained. Changing regulation remains a critical issue.
4. What are the keys to a successful career in the legal community? Integrity: you cannot fudge your numbers. You must be clear and transparent when dealing with the board of directors and other employees. Time: this is an essential factor. You have to make it easy for others to work with you and if you can plan around their time you can get the job done much more easily. On the governance side, you must try to avoid surprises and, if you have bad news, you should get it out early.
5. What type of qualities should a leader possess? There was a sign on Ronald Reagan’s desk when he was US president that read, It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit, and I believe this is true. If you are getting a lot of attention for your accomplishments, however, you should accept it – but at the same time you recognise your staff frequently and publicly. It is important to share the credit but if something goes wrong you accept the blame because you learn from failure. If you haven’t failed at some point, then you were never trying anything new. That’s how I operate.
[Article by Aarti Maharaj, Corporate Secretary]