Are good general counsel transplantable to any industry?

In the business press you often read that a good executive will bring value to whatever industry that executive joins. General managerial ability rises above knowledge of a particular industry. If so, then to the same degree a general counsel in one industry might be equally effective in the same position in an unrelated industry

Some examples are at hand. Richard Walker moved from the top lawyer position at the SEC to Deutsche Bank. Marschall Smith move from a potash producer eventually to a bowling equipment company (See my post of March 24, 2007: a GC in his fourth GC position; and Oct. 2, 2006 #2: more examples.). Stasia Kelly shifted from a retailer (Sears), to a telecommunications company (MCI), to an insurance/financial services company (AIG). Dan Cooperman recently moved from an industrial database company (Oracle) to a consumer technology company (Apple). Years ago, Andy Hendry moved from a high-tech company (Unisys) to a consumer products company (Colgate-Palmolive).

Despite a few examples, my impression is, however, that it is far more common for mobile general counsel to stay within the industry they know. The ability to manage a law department may be transplantable and transcend industry, but legal knowledge and practical business experience gained in an industry makes far more difference for a successful shift of jobs.

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