The Perks of Being a Generalist

For Andrean Horton, executive vice president and chief legal officer at A. Schulman, wide-ranging experience is the sweet spot for her work as in-house counsel

In a world that increasingly calls on specialists in all areas of business, including the law, Andrean Horton happily says that being a legal generalist suits her just fine.

“You have to get comfortable knowing what you don’t know,” says Horton, executive vice president and chief legal officer at A. Schulman. “Early in your career, someone says, ‘Here’s a real estate issue,’ and you have to figure out how to tackle that. You come to a level of comfort that you are not a specialist. You issue-spot and know when to bring in experts. That has been extremely helpful to me, and by the time I came to A. Schulman, I had learned how to be effective in tackling these issues.”

Headquartered in Akron, Ohio, A. Schulman, Inc. is a leading international supplier of high-performance plastic compounds and resins. Horton assumed her current role in September 2016, but the road there was paved with other jobs and duties that forged her generalist philosophy.

A native of Warren, Ohio, Horton was always interested in history, politics, and English. “Although my mom says that when I was eight years old, I said I wanted to be a lawyer or a psychiatrist,” she says, laughing.

Horton eventually went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science at the University of Michigan and a law degree from Case Western Reserve University. “I was always intrigued that lawyers seemed to know things other people don’t know,” she says. “It’s like they have a secret key to the law that no one else has. I wanted to know what they know.”

Horton was especially interested in international politics and law, but she also enjoyed business law. In fact, she says that contracts law was her favorite class. Her first job was practicing general business and commercial litigation law at Cleveland law firm Calfee, Halter, and Griswold, where she had interned while in law school. In her time at the firm, Horton gained valuable experience and learned a lot about practicing law.

About two and a half years later, she was recruited as in-house counsel for a trucking company now known as YRC Worldwide. “A mentor of mine said she was aware that YRC was looking for a labor and employment attorney, and that was an interest of mine,” Horton says. “Part of the appeal of the job was being told I could help craft what this department looks like and how we move forward.”

After that initial focus at YRC Worldwide, she was later promoted to assistant general counsel, at which point she handled general legal matters and eventually earned a promotion to vice president of legal and regulatory compliance. In that role, Horton learned what an in-house lawyer’s role in a company should be. “A mentor there told me, ‘You’re not the one that makes the company money,’” she recalls. “‘It’s the drivers and the dock workers who make money for the company, and your role is to support them and the operations team that supports them.’ She was saying, ‘It’s not about you; it’s about the business.’ It was a good reminder of what the focus should be.”

From there, Horton moved to Detroit and took a position with the Bartech Group, a workforce management firm, in part to further her generalist tendencies. “I was getting excellent operations experience, but I wasn’t getting experience working with a board of directors,” she says. “Going to Bartech was to get that experience of being counsel to an executive management team.” After gaining that experience, she and her husband, a Cleveland native, decided they wanted to move closer to home. When someone sent her a job description for a position at A. Schulman, noting that she would be perfect for the job, Horton had to agree.

She joined in 2010 as senior corporate counsel for the United States, Latin America, and Canada. Over the years, Horton added other responsibilities, including managing the company’s global intellectual property portfolio; she even had a brief stint in human resources. In 2015, Horton was promoted to assistant secretary to work with the board of directors, and in 2016, she was promoted to her current position. She is now responsible for legal support of the board of directors and for the entire corporate legal function in the United States, Canada, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and the Asia-Pacific region.

That’s where all of her previous experience has come to play. “I enjoy dealing with all aspects of law that touch the company, from real estate to labor and employment to environmental,” Horton says. “I enjoy touching all those areas and shaping our internal practices and procedures. I decided long ago that was my sweet spot, and I have been fortunate that each move I made allowed me to add on additional experience.”