Digressions on the new general counsel of Schneider Electric

In March, Paris-based Schneider Electric SA, a 25-billion-Euro global energy management company, appointed Peter Wexler, an American, to serve as its chief legal officer. A profile of Wexler allows several observations on the challenges he faces or faced.

Wexler doesn’t speak French, as many global general counsel do not speak one or more significant languages. “ His challenge: to work directly with French senior executives,—sans the ability to speak French.”

The department is far-flung and diverse. Wexler’s 160 lawyers work from 31 locations, so there is a lot of cultural diversity as well as legal diversity.

Wexler is young. One of the youngest lawyers to head up the legal department of a large global company, 41-year-old Wexler. If we had a correlation of age of general counsel to size of law department, Wexler would be an extreme outlier.

Wexler never served time in a huge law firm. According to the article, “He cut his legal teeth working at small law firms in Japan and London after graduating law school in 1993. When he moved back to the U.S., he decided to go in-house—working as corporate counsel for engineering company Stone Webster, then as general counsel for a small startup.” In 1999, Wexler took a position as associate general counsel at American Power Conversion Corp., which Schneider Electric acquired in 2007.

Wexler thought strategically and dramatically altered the structure of the legal function. In the year before his appointment, Wexler was asked by executive management to study all legal resources for the company. Schneider had a decentralized legal model where divisional GCs reported to divisional executive vice presidents, not to the CLO. Wexler reviewed all legal staff in the company: where they were, how much they spent, their skill sets, who they used for outside counsel. In the end, he created three regions: Americas and Europe, Mideast and Africa, and Asia-Pacific. In those regions, he assigned regional CLOs.

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