Victoria Silbey has worked with Sungard—a technology company that provides businesses with software systems, solutions, and services—for sixteen years. As senior vice president and chief legal officer, she oversees the office of the general counsel, which gives the rest of the company legal expertise, helps the business stay compliant with laws as it enters new markets, and looks out for customer interests.
What value do you feel your role as general counsel brings to Sungard?
As a company that services customers and clients who are regulated in the US, Europe, or Asia, we need to be familiar with those regulations. In my department, we have legal, mergers and acquisitions, corporate government, litigation, employment, and IP-related matters, as well as compliance and enterprise-risk management. So, you can see at Sungard, the office of the general counsel is a broadly based department that provides a broad functionality.
The value that we bring to the business is severalfold. We are critical in making sure that the basic business of Sungard gets done in a way that is beneficial to our customers and clients, but also that helps protect the interest in Sungard. We work closely with the businesses when we put together new service offerings and work with them to make sure that things are going to meet our customers’ needs, pass our regulatory and compliance process, and actually be something that all the stakeholders in Sungard will be proud of.
In addition, we have to provide the technical expertise around our intellectual property. We also handle the legal work for the company in the different countries where we do business, and we are well-versed in the laws in the countries we do business.
How do you feel the rest of the company perceives the value of legal?
That’s a good question to ask, because we are all part of the larger Sungard team. People come to the legal group and expect a level of technical expertise. We are dealing with the biggest financial institutions in the world, so we need to be able to keep up with those clients and their legal departments. It’s also critical, and I think it’s very much appreciated, that we are truly partners to the business. We feel that it is important to always figure out a way to listen to our customers and determine the best way forward for the customer and for Sungard. I think that businesspeople with whom we work do appreciate that.
What does being a general counsel mean to you?
It is certainly an honor. The trust that is put in me by my legal team, the business, the senior executives at Sungard, and the board of directors about having me in this role is terrific. I was a litigator originally, so I am competitive; I want to win, and I want Sungard to win. But it is critical to do that in a smart way. We want to always apply our judgment to balance all the factors and the needs of our clients, customers, our business, and our stakeholders to make sure we’re getting to the best overall answer.
I understand you’re active in giving back to the community. What events and activities do you participate in?
I’m a member of the board of directors for a nonprofit that helps support and advocate for victims of crime. It is an organization that does everything from going out with the police to a crime scene to helping the victim—whether working with them, getting them counseling, and helping them navigate the criminal justice system, and finally, providing ongoing service for the victim and their families. I think it is a critical area of support that we can provide to people in the community and fulfill a function that was not fully understood. I also encourage my team to participate in pro bono activity within the community and to take part in various functions or activities that are available.
Did you have to educate yourself on Sungard and the industry? If so, what steps did you take to do that?
If you are a new attorney who is going to move in-house, or you’re an outside firm and you are looking to work with a new client, there are some basic things that you can do. If the company is a public filer, go read their Form 10K and talk to other people who may have worked with this client to understand what they do, because it’s critical that any new attorney making that transition understands the business of the client—or in our case, with Sungard—and not just the legal issues that they may be facing. It’s great if you have the opportunity to talk to people at the company. Even if you’re working on a legal matter, you’re probably going to be talking to a businessperson, as well as somebody in the general counsel’s office.
I did all of that when I thought about joining Sungard. I was at a major law firm in Philadelphia; it was a big step for me to move in-house. I wanted to make sure I understood the business of the company and the culture: was this going to be a company where people, thoughts, and ideas were respected, where legal was viewed as an important contributor to the business and not just sort of an overhead? I was pleased to find that it was that kind of place with interesting products.
What qualities do you think make for a great general counsel? How do you apply these in your work?
Technical expertise is critical. The ability to be a strong business partner so that you’re not just offering legal advice, but understanding it in the context of the business. Good judgment is critical. Understanding the stakeholders and what their interests are and being able to translate that into the sort of legal strategy of the company is critical as well.
When I think about where I’ve been, I think another strength my team and I bring is our ability to collaborate across the different functions of the business—HR, finance, internal audit—and to execute against plans. Not only do you have to provide the leadership when you are running a project, you have to be able to execute. I’m proud of the fact that my team can do both; I’ve got some really strong professionals in this department, and they are great at collaborating, building consensus, getting to the right answer, and executing against it.