Lawyers share top honours in this year’s Western Canada General Counsel Awards.
How to decide which l a wyer should get the nod for general counsel of the year was a challenge. On the one hand, there’s one of the biggest merger and acquisition deals in the pipeline business, and on the other is a scrappy and growing forestry firm that — yet again — finds itself embroiled in the softwood lumber dispute.
So this year’s judging panel solved that by declaring a rare tie, awarding top honours to a couple of seasoned general counsel: Harry Andersen, senior vice- president, external affairs and chief legal officer at Calgary-based Pembina Pipeline Corp., and David M. Calabrigo, senior vice- president, corporate development, legal affairs and corporate secretary at Canfor Corp. and Canfor Pulp Products Inc.
It’s been a busy year for both. In the spring, Pembina bought smaller rival Veresen Inc. for $ 9.7 billion. Andersen called it a “transformational deal” that makes Pembina one of the largest energy infrastructure companies in the country, with a 10,000-km network of pipelines in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and North Dakota.
“I’m heavily involved in acquisitions,” says Andersen. “That’s a big part of my role.”
Pembina, which traces its roots to 1954, went public in 1997 in a $ 62- million IPO. Following the Veresen acquisition, Pembina’s enterprise value topped $31 billion.
“The pace of change is unprecedented” in the energy sector, Andersen says. There is more to come, too, as the sector prepares for a “massive swell of change coming on the regulatory side,” with a revamping of the National Energy Board.
At Vancouver- based Canfor, Calabrigo has seen his company grow dramatically since he joined in 2001. His role has expanded from a purely legal function to include such tasks as corporate strategy and development, overseeing human resources and directing capital expenditure — decisions that help shape the future of the firm.
Canfor is one of the world’s largest producers of lumber, pulp and paper, with 13 sawmills, four pulp mills and 14 plants. Founded in 1938, it operates in Canada, the U. S., Asia and Europe. Much of its expansion in the past few years has been in the U. S. southeast, led by Calabrigo.
Canfor has been busy snapping up family-operated mills and closely held companies as the lumber sector consolidates. Calabrigo said the biggest change he has seen in his 16 years as an inhouse lawyer has been the global expansion of business.
“Business transactions happen on an international scale,” he says. “No longer can general counsel focus on the province or country in which he or she operates.” In fact, this requires the building of a network of legal experts around the globe.
Andersen has also seen global changes in the business landscape. Shortly before joining Pembina, he was involved with one of the first major oilsands investments by a Chinese firm, PetroChina’s investment in Athabasca Oil Sands Corp. in 2009. It was an “interesting experience," he says, “understanding the Chinese culture and how they do business.”
Andersen said one of the things he takes most pride in is “developing our people.” Six of his direct reports are either now vice-presidents or “burgeoning VPs” within the company, including four from the legal department. “I’ve seen them grow their wings in something that is not law.”
Developing business acumen to complement legal skills is critical to advancement, he says. Former CEO David Emerson asked Calabrigo early in his career to take on human resources after someone suddenly retired. Calabrigo told his boss he wasn’t interested, but Emerson told him he had to “think differently” if he wanted to advance and develop in the company. “I never thought of it that way. It opened my eyes to other things I could do in the company,” Calabrigo said, and he hasn’t looked back.
In fact, it’s advice he still gets from current CEO Don Kayne. “He is all about that with me,” Calabrigo says, noting Kayne encourages him to get involved in all aspects of operations and strategy, rather than simply “sitting in my office thinking about legal contracts.”
Andersen adds that the key to success as a general counsel is being proactive and developing the mindset to run a business. For lawyers steeped in the law, but not necessarily managing people, that is not an easy transition, he notes. To help that along, Andersen hired a personal coach to learn how to manage large groups of people. “I swallowed my pride,” he says, adding that hiring a coach “was one of the best things I have done.”
Finalists in the general counsel of the year category included: Michel Bélec, senior vice-president, chief legal officer and corporate secretary, Telus International; Pierre Magnan, interim senior vice-president, supply and trading, and vice- president, general counsel and corporate secretary, Parkland Fuel Corp.; Paul M. Mendes, vicepresident, legal, general counsel and corporate secretary, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.; Barbara Munroe, executive vice-president, corporate services and general counsel, WestJet Airlines Ltd.
IT OPENED MY EYES TO OTHER THINGS I COULD DO IN THE COMPANY.