If ACCO Brands was a football team, Pamela Schneider would be that player who gets a thrill just digging her cleats into the sod. The senior vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary joined the branded office-products company in 2012, handpicked because she had the right expertise at the right time. Schneider is leading a transformation within the company’s legal department from the inside out.
Schneider started her law career in private practice before going in-house. At ACCO Brands, she found a niche integrating the legal department as a fully engaged component of the company. Schneider is passionate about getting involved with multiple facets of the organization in order to ensure business success. That approach is necessary, as ACCO Brands is home to more than 25 brands—including Swingline, Five Star, Day-Timer, and Mead—and, with annual revenue approaching $2 billion, its products can be found in more than 100 countries.
Schneider came to ACCO Brands one month before the company completed a merger with Mead Consumer and Office Products, which increased revenue more than 50 percent. The expanding corporation needed a new and integrated approach to the legal department, and Schneider was a natural fit to guide the change. According to Schneider, many companies do not expect the legal department to become involved in ongoing business activities, nor do they see the potential that such integration brings. “I haven’t ever come into a legal position in-house where the business team fully appreciated what their legal partners could do to advance their business,” says Schneider, who is in the process of guiding several changes that will have a lasting impact on the company.
Schneider began the transformation by harnessing the strengths of her existing team and working to refocus the perspectives of the people who reported to her. Step one required her to engage with each of the lawyers who worked within the legal department to determine where each could best fit in an integrated approach, mapping strengths with needs and filling in gaps where appropriate. “[The team] has a lot of historical knowledge,” Schneider says. “Ultimately, you need people who have the mind-set that they want to be integrated business partners.”
Schneider’s transformation efforts are focused on three key areas: contract discipline and management, aggressively defending intellectual property, and building a global compliance infrastructure. Schneider says the progress of contract discipline and management is at about 40 percent completed. “Year to date, we have reviewed 750 contracts that the company has signed,” Schneider says. “My instinct is that’s only 50 percent of the contracts in the company.” Schneider expects the process to be complete by fall of 2014.
Schneider’s early days at ACCO Brands have been unique, since the company’s IP portfolio grew substantially a month after she started on the job. “Anything we invent that is protectable, we are taking steps to protect it,” she says.
The process of building a global compliance infrastructure may be the aspect of the transformation that requires the most patience. Before Schneider came to ACCO Brands, the company’s compliance function was narrowly focused on key operational risks. “The goal is to build a more comprehensive global compliance organization that ensures legal and regulatory compliance, and supports our core values to act with integrity and responsibly in our global community,” Schneider says.
Though the process of transforming the company’s legal department is far from easy, Schneider is right where she wants to be. “I would be the first person to tell any CEO that isn’t looking for an integrated legal team that I’m not the right general counsel for them,” she says. “I would be frustrated sitting on the sidelines.”