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The Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) is the world's largest organization serving the professional and business interests of attorneys who practice in the legal departments of corporations, associations, nonprofits and other private-sector organizations around the globe.

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ACC Australia 2022 Executive Retreat

The ACC 2022 Executive Retreat, sponsored by HFW Consulting and HFW Australia, took place at Peppers Noosa Resort, bringing together a group of senior legal counsel from across Australian business and facilitated by Stephen Scheeler (ex-CEO Facebook ANZ).  The retreat focussed on the 8 key pillars of leadership, namely vision, humility, curiosity, transparency, data dexterity, customer obsession and speed, whilst providing an opportunity to network with peers from the legal community.

We asked Chris O'Callaghan (Director of HFW Consulting) and Jo Keen (General Counsel) to share their thoughts on the retreat.

1.  What attracted you to attend this year's retreat?

[Jo] Leadership is not about position or title – it is about service to others. As leaders, we have the responsibility and privilege of doing all that we can to ensure that our people and our organisations are set up for success. Leadership is more important than ever to guide our people and our organisations in an ever-changing world. The retreat was a wonderful opportunity to take time to reflect, connect with other General Counsels and to learn from a well-respected and inspiring leader, Stephen Scheeler.

[Chris] The past few years have seen a sequence of business disruptors that we seldom see; the Global pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and now we face uncertainty over the genuine condition of the Chinese economy. Further, the world is waking to the reality of global warming and world leaders are being looked on to take immediate action. For those charged with leading legal functions, these business disruptors have and continue to push the expectations which organisations have of them, in many cases requiring a step change in the leadership agenda. The retreat provided a fantastic opportunity to spend time with senior counsel, further developing our understanding of their role, challenges and enabling me to consider what more can be done to support them as the world around them changes.

2.  How is disruption impacting your role, your function, and/or what you are seeing around you?

[Chris] From my conversations over the weekend and with leading counsel around the world, there are similarities in the challenges which leaders are facing, yet the nuances of organisational culture shape these similarities differently. Disruption is coming from all directions and it is often legal leaders who are being asked to deal with many of these challenges, often resulting in a significant reduction in the amount of legal work these individuals actually perform. As roles change, I remain continually surprised that these capabilities are expected rather than supported, and that individuals leading these functions often comment on the loneliness of their roles.

As business continues to evolve, and with it the role of leading counsel, I am increasingly curious as to what extent do these leaders actually need formal legal training when their roles are focussing more and more on the wider issues of leadership.

[Jo] As General Counsels and leaders, we are able to take a helicopter view of the challenges across our organisations and help build stronger connections across divisions. The disruption we have faced in the last couple of years has required us to be more curious, more creative, more flexible and more caring and required more of us as leaders to help our teams and organisation to thrive.  This has required us to create a positive vision for the future, be a driver for change around ESG and culture and to look ahead and respond quickly and with agility, with a customer focused mindset.

Data, analytics and artificial intelligence are becoming great tools for us to interpret the changes we are facing. This information is important to ensure that it we make it easy for teams and our business partners to navigate our changing environment and remove any barriers for success – it is not just about being great lawyers, it is about being inspirational and caring leaders. 

3.  What has been your biggest take away from the GC Executive Retreat?

[Jo] Leadership is now more important than ever. It is important as leaders that we take the time to understand our people, what is important to them in their lives both outside work and within, and how we can enable them to recognise and use their strengths and bring the best of themselves to work.   By understanding the 8 key pillars of leadership I now have a framework to help me be a better leader, create excitement, and energy for the future.

[Chris] Leaders in 2022 continue to face a barrage of change. The pillars of leadership which the retreat focussed on are increasingly relevant as leaders look to the future. The retreat provided a fantastic opportunity to understand more about the changing landscape of the in-house function and in particular the role of leading counsel. Whilst it was of course great to continue to build my business network, on a personal level I continually look to develop my leadership approach and Stephen provoked both curiosity and reflection.

HFW is a truly industry focused law firm and has been since its inception in the late 1800s. Our Australian practice works seamlessly with our global network of 20 offices to deliver legal solutions to major domestic and international clients across our six key sectors of shipping, construction, energy, commodities, insurance, and aerospace.

Complementing HFW's legal expertise is our consulting arm, HFW Consulting. We have provided consulting services to a broad range of private and public companies around the world, from start-ups to several members of the Fortune 500 and organisations listed on the stock exchanges in Sydney, Dubai, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, London and New York, as well as state-owned entities in the Middle East.



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