8 Questions with Award-Winning General Counsel
Anne Fitzgerald, Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary, Cineplex Inc.
Interviewed by Salima Alibhai, Client Partner, ZSA Legal Recruitment
1. Why did you decide to become a general counsel?
I didn’t decide to be a general counsel. After spending many years in private practice, I decided to go in-house. During my time in-house, my responsibilities started to increase and eventually my position evolved to a general counsel position.
2. What role do you play in helping shape the corporate culture?
My belief is that any executive that is visible and accessible will inevitably shape corporate culture. I personally try to be engaging and accessible. I feel that those “ivory-tower” executives who are not accessible and do not shape corporate culture as people are scared to approach them. I feel like I am one of the employees here and I have a very open-door policy.
3. How do you handle the reporting role to the CEO and the Board?
I reported to the CEO for many years and now I report to the COO. I do all of the deals with the CEO and I spend the most time with him. I’m close to both the CEO and the COO. Although I do not report to the board, I have a very close relationship with the members of the board.
4. How do you navigate risk management?
At Cineplex, we have two streams of risk management. Risk management is a separate entity and does not report to legal. This way, we can have checks and balances. We have a robust risk management process here. In addition to me, we have a VP of Risk Management who is present at audit meetings but not board meetings. I consider myself to be a second set of eyes with regards to risk management.
5. What is the biggest professional challenge you have faced during your career?
A long time ago, I used to litigate and I was involved in a murder trial. I feel that this was the biggest professional challenge that I have faced during my career. My biggest personal challenge was moving to Canada as I did not know a single soul here and was unsure if I would ever be able to find my place. I eventually did both personally and professionally.
6. What do you look for when making hiring decisions for your department?
I look for fit. I believe lots of people can do a job if they are taught, however, if you don’t integrate with a team, you can disrupt the team. My motto is “work hard and play hard". I enjoy working with people who are not arrogant and that can laugh at themselves. I like to have multiple interviews with people that I am going to hire. I find it’s also important to get different people within the organization to meet them and also to meet them in different situations.
7. How do you handle the outside firm relationship with legal assignments?
I like to use multiple firms. Goodmans handles the majority of our work, however, we do as much internally as we can.
8. What advice would you give to prepare for moving beyond the counsel office within the company?
I would say “raise your hand”. Start with the committees that need help; for example, donations and corporate responsibility. Once you get your foot in the door, your skill-set will be known. Also, learn how to read financial statements. If you are able to speak the language of operations, then you will be an easier hire for them to make.