In an interview with Who’s Who Legal, Constance Crosby tells us about her new role as legal director, Canada and vice president of Cisco Canada.
"As a generalist, I enlist the help of experienced external counsel for those areas of compliance sensitivity such as competition or lobbying. We also rely on external counsel for contract negotiations as an overflow capability."
Name: Constance Crosby
Position: Legal director, Canada and VP of Cisco Canada
Company: Cisco Systems Canada
Location: Toronto, ON
2013 is being hailed as the break-out year for the “Internet of Things” – a term first used in 1999 and now used to describe a concept whereby everyday objects can be connected via the internet. It marks a key step in the evolution of the internet and its applications are boundless.
Cutting-edge technology is beginning to transform health-care provision enabling doctors to remotely monitor patients’ health; utility companies are able to map out smart grids to optimise delivery of energy to homes and businesses; and an extension of asset-tracking services will allow users to trail any object with a radio-frequency identification tag on Google Earth.
According to Cisco, the next stage in internet evolution is “The Internet of Everything” (IoE) – the intelligent connection of people, processes, data and things on the network. John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, is calling this the “biggest [market] transition we’ve ever experienced” due to the unprecedented economic opportunities it will present to businesses, individuals and countries. The continued proliferation of mobile networking and cloud computing, and the widespread preference for Internet Protocol version 6, will play critical roles in the development of the IoE.
Founded in 1984 by then-husband and wife Len Bosack and Sandy Lerner, Cisco is known for its internet networking technology; it aims to transform how people connect, communicate and collaborate. Today, Cisco sells the critical switches and routers that make the internet work as well as innovative communication products.
Cisco’s vision helped to deliver the most connected Olympic Games ever at London 2012. As official network infrastructure supporter, Cisco underpinned the delivery of voice, video and data traffic carried out over BT’s communications services network to the thousands of people officiating, reporting, competing in or simply enjoying the Games. In addition, Cisco has created a lasting legacy in the form of innovation centres, national virtual incubators and an awards programme. Cisco will be looking to build on this success in 2015, when it will be partnering with the Pan American Games in Toronto.
Who’s Who Legal spoke to Constance Crosby, the newly appointed legal director for Canada and vice president of Cisco Canada, about her role within the company and how she balances applying existing laws to cutting-edge technologies and business ideas.
Tell us about your new role.
I feel incredibly privileged to be working at Cisco. They are very careful about hiring and being sure of a good fit – the whole process consisted of 14 interviews with the legal team and senior leadership in Canada. You feel very supported when you know you have been given the thumbs-up by the whole team.
Cisco Systems worldwide revenues are US$46 billion a year, making for a very busy legal group. The work is also incredibly exciting – Cisco operates at the absolute forefront of internet technology and sees the internet as the next big platform. At Cisco, we truly believe that technology can make people’s lives better.
This position with Cisco is the first in my career that focuses solely on Canada, and it is great to be able to bring my experience of what is happening in other jurisdictions into the analysis of Canadian issues. Canada takes a cautious approach to law making – we tend to be watchful about what happens elsewhere. The European Union has really led the way in privacy law, but Canada is also a leader in this area. Cisco is already huge in cloud computing, and expects to grow massively over the next five years. We provide equipment to our customers, whether enterprises such as banks and governments, or Telco Systems, a telecom network solution provider who provide the cloud services to their clients, so while we aren’t in the business of storing personal data, privacy concerns are on our customers’ minds. I am a member the ABA section of international law, privacy and electronic data committee, which is a great way to keep abreast on what is going on around the world. I am also a member of the Association of Corporate Counsel, which is impressive in its dedication to educating and representing in house counsel.
Tell us about the legal department.
Worldwide the legal department consists of 300 lawyers, comprising four in Canada – not including what I call the shadow legal group (those lawyers who have been absorbed into the business, of whom there are three). The scale allows for huge expertise in every area. The legal department follows the company structure which is organised by function – so, for example, if there is a patent litigation case in Canada it will be handled by our US patent litigation expert. This ensures the people with the correct experience are handling each matter.
At Cisco, the legal department is headed by the general counsel Mark Chandler who is held in awe and admiration by all in his team (including me). He is funny, strategic and incredibly intelligent and hard-working. More than once have I heard it said of Mark that he is so capable he can sit down and do anyone’s job in the legal department – and that if you aren’t careful and leave your desk, he might just do yours! But more importantly even than getting the work processes right, his direction is to always do the right thing, including taking risks and pushing through any red tape. He calls it being a “barbarian”. So, as lawyers we are encouraged never to let business be impeded by remote or legalistic issues.
At Cisco, we live the dream and walk the walk of internet connectedness – as a new member of the team it is truly awesome to experience this degree of sharing of knowledge and resources for the first time. Mark has led the legal department in automating every conceivable task. The tracking of contracts is brilliant; the approval process is totally automated; there is a separate group of lawyers who do the NDA agreements with very fast return times; no lawyer ever has to chase a contract signature or copy – it is all taken care of by the amazing Global Centre of Excellence, as this resource is called. There is a constant sharing of information and experience in webcasts – so yesterday, for example, we heard of how a deal was being put together for cloud computing in Eastern Europe.
What led you to choose a career in-house?
I made the move in-house 10 years ago. I was in private practice as a partner at a small technology boutique called Byrne, Crosby in Toronto, when the CEO and CFO of one of my clients, Psion – a UK listed computing company, inventor of the handheld computer and Symbian software that powers smartphones and which was acquired by Motorola in 2012 –spent a year persuading me to come in-house as the general counsel. I did, and have never looked back. The role at Psion involved managing the legal affairs for subsidiaries in 15 countries, selling into 120. The experience was very broad; I managed sales and procurement contracts, legal compliance and litigation around the world. At any one time, I had litigation cases in different continents including several patent cases – which I had a great deal of success at, fending off patent trolls. In 2008, I investigated and discovered a large fraud in the company’s Japanese office involving quite a number of listed Japanese companies. I headed up the forensic investigation and defended eight lawsuits in Tokyo.
I love being part of a management team and having a long-term perspective on the strategic legal issues.
What were your main priorities when moving into this role? What needed seeing to first?
Within the legal group in Canada, the main priority is team building. Currently, the lawyers are somewhat siloed in their work, and they work very hard, as we are very far down on the scale of lawyer per million dollars in revenue. The next step will be to become more outward-facing, to meet the customers and have Cisco better-represented in the legal community. There are some specific initiatives within the Canadian organisation that need a lot of legal attention to get them off the ground, and I am spending quite a bit of my time on those.
I will also be bringing more expertise in to the company from external counsel and concentrating information from the many different legal roles having authority over Canadian matters.
Describe a typical day.
I have three vibrant and connected teenage girls at home, so between a full load at work and keeping my girls on track my days are full.
When I wake up, I check my e-mail to see whether there is any important business that has come up overnight, make lunch for the girls and head into the office. My day will consist of meetings with internal customers, TelePresence meetings with external customers, lunch with colleagues or lawyers and drafting work in the afternoon before I head home. In the evenings, I might drive the girls to choir, cello lessons or a dance, or go to Bikram yoga, a book club or non-profit board meeting, before more drafting and a last review of my e-mails before rolling into bed.
When do you enlist the help of external counsel?
As a generalist, I enlist the help of experienced external counsel for those areas of compliance sensitivity such as competition or lobbying. We also rely on external counsel for contract negotiations as an overflow capability.
Are you able to choose your own external counsel or do you rely on existing relationships of the company?
Yes, I am able to choose my own external counsel, but happily, Cisco has already built a relationship with Gowlings. I have worked closely with Alan James, head of the firm’s technology business section, who is a wonderful lawyer. He has a great ability to bring the right resources to the table in a highly cost effective way and attacks every problem in a business critical manner rather than purely legalistically. For some of the legal work in Canada such as M&A work, the M&A team may use a different counsel, depending on conflicts and so on.
What qualities do you look for in external counsel?
The combination of great expertise in their area, business acumen and effectiveness.
What is the greatest challenge for companies in the technology and internet industry?
One of the biggest challenges for technology companies is maintaining brainpower in-house, which is why Canada is so appealing. Not only do we have some of the smartest and best-educated graduates in the world, they tend to stay with companies longer than in other places, so there is less churn and loss of experience. Right now in places like Silicon Valley, or China or India where the growth is so strong, people change jobs every few months, which is really hard for companies to manage.
Nitin Kawale, the president of Cisco Canada, has worked tirelessly to make Cisco relevant in Canadian culture, bringing into Canada technology jobs and training when others are sending them offshore. We are working with remote northern communities to help bring in teaching and health care remotely via video and Cisco TelePresence. Our Cisco TelePresence videoconferencing technology makes you feel like you are sitting across the table in the same room with the remote person. Not only is Cisco bringing in research jobs into Canada, Cisco has funded research chairs at universities across the country.
In recognition of the company’s commitment to Canada and its employees, it was named “Best Employer in Canada” by the Aon Hewitt study in 2011 and 2013.
The internet is a great driver of transformation and modernisation and health care has been singled out as the next large growth sector. What work has the company been doing in this field?
Cisco has been involved in some amazing work in health care; it is the industry’s time to change. Using TelePresence technology, doctors are able to connect with patients in remote areas. For example, Cisco has been working in Jordan alongside the Ministry of Health and Ministry of ICT to establish care-at-a-distance clinics that use video technologies and network-connected medical devices such as blood pressure cuffs, stethoscopes and handheld cameras, to enable specialists to instantly receive data and perform consultations without the need to travel hundreds of kilometres.
Is it difficult for the law to stay up-to-date with new technologies? How does this impact your role and work within the company?
It is often a matter of applying existing law to new situations, beyond the scope of what the law was intended for. While this does make the job more difficult, it is also what makes it interesting.
Cisco is incredibly interested in compliance and leads from the top in this respect. In the legal department, while we are conscious of compliance we are also encouraged to take reasonable commercial risks and not be so conservative that it ends up hurting the business.
Canada on the whole, is quite a conservative lawmaker; we tend to take a look around at other jurisdictions before legislating ourselves, which allows us to evaluate different models. For privacy matters, the EU is certainly leading the way, but Canada is not far behind and it is well ahead of the US.