Erin Wiggins is in a rather unique position compared with other in-house lawyers. He navigates a delicate line between his duties as general counsel at TS Tech Americas and his placement within the human resources department.
TS Tech is an automotive company that specializes in the manufacture of seats and other interior components. As TS Tech’s first in-house lawyer, Wiggins has learned to strike a balance between working within HR to build a unified company and not crossing important lines that could create conflicts.
“HR and legal are naturally aligned in most companies,” Wiggins notes. “They are forces aimed at the same goal. HR is looking out for the associates’ well-being and balancing benefits, and legal is really about approaching all of those initiatives within the law.” Because Wiggins technically acts as one of the company’s HR managers, he knows he occasionally needs to separate his functions so as to not preclude himself from fulfilling his legal duties.
The Ohio native pursued a law career after earning his bachelor’s degree at Case Western Reserve University, moving to New York City to complete his law degree at Columbia University. Wiggins landed at Weil, Gotshal & Manges doing patent litigation before following one of the partners to Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in 2011.
It was around this time that he and his wife were building a family, and they knew they eventually wanted to move away from New York. They both found new positions in Ohio and within a couple years of moving back to his home state, Wiggins was offered the opportunity to join TS Tech Americas in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, near Columbus.
“HR is looking out for the associates’ well-being and balancing benefits, and legal is really about approaching all of those initiatives within the law.”
“I always wanted to be in-house,” Wiggins reflects. “I think it just suited me better than the law firm lifestyle. I like being part of a team that’s growing towards something together. So when that opportunity came up, I took it.”
Since joining TS Tech, Wiggins and his colleagues have faced the challenge of standardizing and aligning the company. Though the company has been around for decades, it has largely operated as independent factories that were located across North and South America, near the various auto manufacturers in order to easily supply their products to them.
It wasn’t until recently that TS Tech established a true headquarters in Ohio and embarked on the homogenization of the company that would allow the company to be more efficient and unified.
“We’re trying to create more policies that apply across the entire group,” Wiggins explains. “We want all the locations to feel like one company even though they’ve grown up as separate companies.”
It has been no easy task, especially when factoring in that TS Tech operates not only across state lines but also international borders—TS Tech has seventy-two different operations in fourteen different countries and the Americas region, which Wiggins is responsible for, has operations in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, and the US.
This standardization process has allowed TS Tech to establish a firm value system and work towards a unified diversity and inclusion initiative. “The automotive industry can be a very white male-dominated industry. While the production level is very diverse, the management generally is not,” Wiggins states. “To try to change this, we want to find those diverse leaders that can help us have the discussions we need to have.”
Throughout the alignment efforts of the company, Wiggins and his colleagues consider the input from the different factories a major priority when it comes to making decisions that will affect them all.
“What I have tried to do is be very inclusive in the discussions and try to vet things through everyone involved,” Wiggins says. “Though, at the end of the day, somebody still needs to call the shot and say, ‘this is what we’re going to do.’”
“What I have tried to do is be very inclusive in the discussions and try to vet things through everyone involved. Though, at the end of the day, somebody still needs to call the shot and say, this is what we’re going to do.”
This type of leadership allowed TS Tech Americas to stay fully operational throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In many instances, as restrictions and regulations varied and changed in different regions and countries, TS Tech had to find a way to set singular standard policies that would keep their associates safe—many of which Wiggins drafted himself.
“Basically, we tried to take the strictest of all of the requirements and apply those across all of our locations,” he explains. “So we built a combination of all of the best practices from around all of our countries and said that’s what TS tech is going to do.”
This approach worked incredibly well for TS Tech, which now is able to boast that it was able to maintain full operations and a largely healthy workforce while many others in the automotive sector experienced production stoppages and outbreaks.
“It’s a huge gold star for TS Tech, and I think it’s due to the fact that we did take it very seriously very early on,” Wiggins says. “It was an effort because we had to consider many different viewpoints and we wanted everyone to be heard but we also were firm when we did make a decision.”