Noah Hanft most recently served as the General Counsel, Corporate Secretary and Chief Franchise Officer for MasterCard Worldwide. In addition to overseeing law, regulatory affairs, public policy, and compliance, he managed the Law & Franchise Integrity consolidated business unit of over 500 global employees with responsibility for licensing, franchise management, global diversity, philanthropy, corporate, and information security.
He developed and executed the strategy that drove MasterCard’s storied transition from a not-for-profit group of financial institutions to a leading public company, and personally managed the complex securities issues involved with the transaction that resulted in its highly successful IPO. Noah adds his expertise to the strategic counsel, leadership development, succession planning, and other services BarkerGilmore advisors provide to legal and compliance departments, CEOs, and boards across the country.
After serving as a highly respected General Counsel, and also thinking about your peers, what do you think differentiates top GCs from the others?
Top GCs act as, and are recognized as, business leaders and not just lawyers, contributing to the business in a way that transcends simply giving sound legal advice. Excelling on many levels, the GC serves as a key member of the executive team, creates a department that is recognized for working with the business, and drives a culture of teamwork and collaboration that attracts and nurtures a spectrum of diverse talent. They possess diplomatic and political skills, the courage to speak out when speaking out is not necessarily easy, the capability to be pragmatic and flexible, and represent the conscience of the company. To be the best, a top GC communicates clearly, cogently, and concisely when speaking and writing. Other key factors include a focus on developing the team, providing honest and real time feedback, and preparing for succession. Finally, a top GC must have impeccable integrity and set an example for others.
In what ways did you make the biggest impact while serving as General Counsel?
My most significant impact was convincing the team that our success rested on our ability to work collaboratively and to help our business colleagues with pragmatic solution-oriented advice. By emphasizing listening skills and encouraging, recognizing, and rewarding teamwork through compensation and awards, the team came to be regarded as a strategic partner and an invaluable business unit. Another impact was to create a culture of ethics and compliance by hosting town halls, convincing an executive team to stress its importance, and identifying ethics and compliance champions across the business and around the globe. As General Counsel, I also oversaw the company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives - traditionally the role of HR – propelling the company to become a recognized leader in fostering diversity. I ultimately managed a consolidated business unit that included Franchise Development, Information Security, Fraud Prevention, Diversity, and Philanthropy in addition to law, compliance, public policy, and government relations. I brought these functions together with a unified vision as “Law & Franchise Integrity,” and this unit continues today as a highly effective, collaborative group.
What do you consider the best “words to live by” that you want General Counsels to know?
Serving as General Counsel may be one of the most fun, yet difficult jobs. In this unique role, one has obligations to shareholders, the Board, employees, and - of course - an ultimate obligation to the law. Occasionally there are conflicting obligations which may give you pause, but the challenges are generally resolved by simply doing what you know to be the right thing. That's usually not hard to do, but whether it is or is not, simply "doing the right thing" is in my view the most important guide and the best words to live by.
What are you passionate about?
I believe that civilization is threatened by a global environment that is at risk due to a disregard for our planet and the well-being of future generations, so I am passionate about the environment and the need to address this existential challenge. I am also passionate about the workplace environment. As both a former GC and CEO of a non-profit, I truly believe that the right environment is the key to a successful team. Specifically, it’s vital to create an open environment that encourages the exchange of ideas from a diverse, inclusive group of employees; promotes listening, debating, even arguing – respectfully; and ultimately finding solutions. This encourages collaboration and the establishment of common objectives. I have always been passionate about diversity and inclusion which goes hand in hand with being passionate about the workplace environment. I believe deeply that a productive and high performing environment that fosters creativity and innovation is one composed of diverse individuals with diverse talents, linked by a common belief in the power of teamwork and collaboration.
How have you helped others succeed?
I think I’ve contributed to the success of others over the years in a number of different ways. By utilizing listening skills, along with my ability to empathize, I am able to size up situations and give pragmatic advice. And that advice tends to be accepted because I am viewed as credible as a result of my vast experience, managing through challenging and difficult circumstances, throughout my career. I think I’ve been particularly effective in helping lawyers who are not perceived as business partners by their CEO and other business executives. This is a common problem and I’ve coached in-house lawyers on how to act like a business lawyer, as opposed to a lawyer advising a business. The tendency to avoid weighing in on a difficult matter, but sitting back and saying, “here are your options,” is not well-received. To be respected and effective, one needs to be part of the decision-making process. I’ve also coached in-house lawyers on the danger of going too far the other way and forgetting that you must always give sound legal advice and counsel on risks. I’ve been helpful in advising lawyers on another challenge that many face – finding the balance between confidence not arrogance and encouraging them to combine confidence with humility. I have helped GCs with succession planning and overcoming their fears of bringing in individuals with too much talent that they may consider as a threat. Finally, I have been helpful with lawyers confronting the challenges of a new CEO, and how to keep cool under pressure.
In your role as a BarkerGilmore advisor, where do you see yourself adding the biggest value to General Counsels?
Working with different CEOs, and growing a department from five lawyers to hundreds, allows me to guide GCs through many challenges. In particular, I can help to create a collaborative, team-oriented environment that is focused on and recognized for finding pragmatic solutions and serving as a strategic business partner. I offer a depth of experience in budget management, diversity efforts, board relationships, and improving morale and building an esprit de corps. My skills in dispute prevention and resolution would be of value to GCs, especially in positioning their department as one focused on shrinking litigation spending.
Coaching and Advising from Noah Hanft
If you’re looking for a strategic advisor with decades of experience as General Counsel, contact Noah Hanft today.