Episode 18: What a CEO needs from their GC

In today’s episode, we discuss (some of) the qualities of a successful general counsel. At an Openli Community event, Stine asked Trustpilot CEO Peter Mühlmann what he looks for in a GC. His answer? Listen to find out.

Welcome to Inspiring Legal, the podcast for inhouse legal. 

Get insights, learn from peers, life lessons from some of the most influential GCs. If it's related to inhouse legal, we cover it. For more inspiration, go to openli.com/community.

Stine: Welcome to this episode from me, your host, Stine. You're listening to the podcast called Inspiring Legal, and you might have heard about me talking a little before. Today, well, it's me talking, but it's actually more me referring to a conversation I had with a CEO that I really like, that I have a close relationship with. And that is the CEO and founder, Peter Hultman from Trustpilot. 

So I worked together with Peter for six years. I came on board Trustpilot when there were  employees. And the first guy I met was Peter. He gave me a big hug the day I came in.

He was wearing the classic, you know, Silicon Valley t-shirt, tennis socks, and some classic HO slippers. And I was kind of like, OK, nice to meet you. 

You're very different from what I've known at the law firm, where everybody was wearing, you know, the classic blue shirt and the nice jacket. Maybe tie if you're going out for customer meetings, but otherwise, you know, the suit. So I met Peter and we bonded in the sense that he was a person and he is a person that is caring, outgoing, and always honest in his feedback. 

So not that long ago, I asked Peter to join an event we had here in Copenhagen for some of the members in the community. And I asked Peter to give feedback, feedback to the community on how he would like his general counsel to give good advice. What he preferred his general counsel to do when facing, let's call it complicated situations, and how the general counsel, in his opinion, get a place around the decision making table, you know, make a difference, become that business stakeholder that so many of us, well, are, but also would like to be. And continue improving on.

So I asked Peter, wouldn't you just join this event and tell people some of the things that you've been saying to me for so many years? And by the way, it's not just me and Peter having a conversation. It was Peter having a conversation with the entire room.

And it was super insightful.

And I think what he said was very common to what CEOs are looking for. What Peter said that he's looking for is a general counsel that understands the business. That was his key element.

As he said, like, don't be afraid to get your hands dirty.

Jump on customer calls if sales is an important element of your business. Sit down with the marketing team on one of their weekly meetings and hear how they're generating leads. So that when you're having these executive management meetings, you, as the general counsel, know more about the business than the majority of the people around that table. That also means that you will be able to identify risk in a completely different way than what you would otherwise expect from the general counsel. But it also makes you more appreciated by your peers, but also by your CEO.

What Peter then said, in addition to that, was when I'm asking for your opinion on something, I don't need a long memo. I don't need long, kind of like, on one hand, you know, and on the other hand, well, I need you to tell me yes or no. I trust that you know better than I. I trust that you, with all your knowledge of our business and the legal rules, are much better equipped to make that decision than me. And of course, sometimes decisions need to be escalated to the CEO. So when you escalate it, explain why it is that this scenario is being escalated and come up with your proposal. Don't leave it as, this is the, you have the blue pill and the red pill. Which one do you want to take?

Tell me what pill would you prefer to take? And then, of course, me as the CEO is responsible for, if we take that blue pill, that we've taken in the pros and the cons. But I want to hear what you think. I want your opinion.

And then what Peter also said is that, have opinions. That's not a bad thing. But remember, it's not just about saying yes or no.

It's about being there for the business. And that your management group is the most important group. That is your peers. It's not your legal team that is the most important.

It is not you as the general counsel that is the most important. It is you as part of the executive management team. They are your peers. They are your colleagues.

They are the ones you should be supporting, you should be working with.

And that you should always put first. So, this little episode today was much more about just recapping what Peter said. And I think many of us are doing a lot of that.

But it doesn't mean that we can't get better.

And it can't just stop with us and with Peter's thoughts. We should be sharing those thoughts together. So, listen to the next episode of Inspiring Legal where we will have, and we are having, another amazing speaker that will inspire us all. 

So, thank you and listen in.

Thank you so much for listening to Inspiring Legal. Remember to subscribe and if you want more information, you can always go to openli.com/community.