Building An Enterprise Legal Function

Ryan Ruzziconi shares how he tailor-made the legal and HR functions at Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy to build trust and support growth

Ryan Ruzziconi is vice president and general counsel of Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy

In 2009, Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy was looking for its first general counsel. The company is the nation’s largest privately owned specialty pharmacy, but at the time it didn’t have an in-house legal function, and the leadership team wanted someone who could build a department. 

Business leaders are always looking for in-house lawyers with a business focus. At the end of the day, the job of the general counsel is to get things done, not only in a compliant manner, but in a process that supports the business itself. 

When I came in the door, the company’s legal function relied entirely on outside counsel: from contract issues to employee benefits, the work was outsourced. The first step in changing that was going through the company’s policies and procedures, on both the business side and the legal and compliance side, to see where we needed to institute some change. I then strived to provide quality legal work under a short time frame to help build trust within the company’s leadership. From that point, the next step was to slowly begin adding staff—first a compliance officer, then a corporate counsel. Of course, I knew we wouldn’t always have the resources we needed in house, so I also built relationships with two outside law firms I knew I could trust to understand our legal and business needs.

I’m a big believer in education. Soon after joining the company, I met one on one with the business leaders of the company to show them how in-house counsel could add value. For example, compliance is an area in which education is important. In health care, with its vast regulations, you need to have a strong compliance department, and you have to work with that department to build out an education platform. We’ve done a lot of live training. It’s through that training that our employees have become first-line issue spotters, even at the lowest level. If they notice problems, they report them, and we can get them corrected right away. That’s been a great tool.

I took over the human resources function in early 2012. Diplomat had a small HR team when I came on board, and I have a lot of experience in employment law, so I was always advising that team. When I was asked to oversee the department, I jumped at the chance. It can be very time-consuming, but since taking it over I’ve rounded out what I believe is a high-quality staff. I did that by creating functional groups in HR, including payroll, recruiting, and health
and wellness. HR had 4 employees when I started, and it now has 10. 

We’ve been busy. The company had 300 employees when I started; now it has roughly 1,000. We just passed $1 billion in 2012. Growth like that creates a lot of work. For example, we just purchased American Home Care Federation Inc., which was a quick four-month process, but it will help us grow in the infusion space. 

The work has been rewarding. When I joined the company, my former boss and mentor told me it would be the toughest job I’d ever have, and also the most rewarding. I didn’t believe him at the time, but looking back, he was 100 percent right. 

“My former boss and mentor told me it would be the toughest job I’d ever have, and also the most rewarding. He was 100 percent right.” —Ryan Ruzziconi