Jessica Hodkinson on Her Fast Rise—and Faster Impact—at Panasonic

As general counsel, Jessica Hodkinson reorganized the North American legal departments using what she calls the three Cs

In six years, Jessica Hodkinson has held four roles with increasing responsibility at Panasonic. “My path to general counsel was somewhat different than most,” the lawyer says. “I wasn’t a commercial lawyer or a securities lawyer; I’m a litigator-turned-labor-and-employment lawyer who also happens to do a lot of investigations.”

Jessica Hodkinson Panasonic
Jessica Hodkinson, PanasonicPhoto: Courtesy of Panasonic Corporation of North America

Whatever the unusual path to her position, Hodkinson obviously made quite the impression. The lawyer jumped from employment law to deputy general counsel to North American general counsel in the time it takes some lawyers to get fully comfortable in a single role. Since assuming control of the North American region, Hodkinson has initiated a department-wide reorganization fundamentally rooted in what she calls the three Cs: commitment, communication, and collaboration.

One of the best parts of speaking with Hodkinson is her frankness about moving up the ladder at Panasonic. “I think Panasonic sees me as a problem-solver as I’ve helped lead the organization in navigating the constantly changing landscape of our business,” Hodkinson says. “Having quickly risen through the ranks of the legal department, I’m grateful to be part of an organization that provides growth opportunities for professionals who can meet the needs of our diverse and rapidly evolving organization.”

It’s important to note that the GC didn’t just happen into her role. Her nontraditional path has provided her a slightly different tool belt with which she has built out her own expertise. “Coming from labor and employment really helps you understand what motivates people and where the risks lie,” Hodkinson says. “As a litigator, you know where challenges are and how to help the various businesses within the organization overcome those vulnerabilities and drive success.”

This is Hodkinson’s particular strength: be an identifier of problems and a solutions-oriented leader capable of making needed changes.

One of those changes involved the multiple North American legal departments that had long operated as somewhat autonomous units with minimal communication and collaboration. “Though there had historically been dotted line reporting, it’s now direct reporting to me with dotted line reporting to their business leaders,” she says. “This has enabled more communication, greater leveraging of technology and information among the various divisions, and a reduction of costs.”

Counsel for Those in Need

For the past four years, Jessica Hodkinson has led Panasonic’s partnership with New Jersey-based Volunteer Lawyers for Justice (VLJ). VLJ and Panasonic lawyers created a Veterans Legal Wellness Clinic that provides a broad range of free legal services, such as driver’s license restoration and finding employment and housing. The clinics are held at a local Veterans Administration hospital to provide easier access. This year, Hodkinson was asked to join the board of trustees of VLJ. 

“These opportunities allow us to give back to society and make an impact,” Hodkinson says. “Contributing to society is one of seven basic business principles the company’s founder wrote almost a century ago. It remains an important pillar of Panasonic and a central part of an organization that’s purpose driven, whether empowering sustainability or defining the future of transportation, and feels especially meaningful and impactful in my work as general counsel.”

The North American legal department reorganization illustrates all the most important parts of Hodkinson’s three Cs of leadership. “The first C—commitment to our business—helps drive all of our various businesses where they need to go,” Hodkinson explains. “This includes our department focusing on digitization as well as automation.”

That effort started with baby steps: automating NDA agreements, improving the e-billing system, and focusing on data privacy tracking rules. “We’re really making sure that we have the technology within the legal organization to drive efficiency and collaboration and better practices overall,” Hodkinson says.

The second C—communication—is inherent in better connecting all of the North American legal departments and lends itself directly to the third Cof collaboration. “Leveraging the expertise that we have in our specific regions and working together, whether it’s in IP, legal operations, privacy, or various other subject matters, is an initiative we’ll be continuing to drive going forward,” the lawyer explains.

Panasonic has been such a strong proving ground for the threeCs partially because of its more than thirty diverse business units. “We have a huge portfolio of businesses from producing the lithium-ion batteries for Tesla to operating the largest, most advanced intelligent transportation data network in the US and powering Wi-Fi and in-flight entertainment systems for top airlines,” Hodkinson illustrates. “For me, I am able to learn something new literally every single day.” The GC says that those lessons are what continue to propel her forward in her role and keep her always engaged.

Ongoing and evolving challenges for Hodkinson and the North American legal team include data privacy and the business and compliance perspectives of trade issues that are always a challenge for globally operating companies.

As Hodkinson continues to evolve in her role, she says that her strength as a relationship-builder is one she continues to rely on for partnering with so many of the various business units within Panasonic. “I try to always be the communicator. I’m very open and transparent, sometimes to a fault,” Hodkinson says, laughing. “But I think this is what also makes me valuable. People know that I will say what I think.”

With a reorganized continental legal team and a penchant for solving any problems that come her way, Hodkinson says that family time is essential to maintaining her cool—also yoga. “When I don’t do yoga, I think it’s a disservice to everyone around me,” the GC jokes.

Balancing the legal needs of thirty-plus business units seems to come a little more naturally to Hodkinson than a yoga pose, but given her capacity for finding solutions, it’s likely that the fast-rising GC will be found in the eight-angle pose any second now.


WilmerHale:

“Jessica’s great instincts allow her to cut through the noise and remain focused on the most important risks and opportunities. She operates with integrity, respect for all people, and the decisiveness that is critical in a complex, fast-moving organization.”

—Ronald Machen, Co-Chair, White Collar Defense and Investigations