Peter Ganz most recently served as Chief Legal and Compliance Officer, Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of Ashland Global Holdings, Inc., overseeing all legal, government affairs, corporate compliance and governance functions for the publicly traded, global specialty chemicals company in diverse consumer and industrial end-markets. A core member of the executive leadership team, he was responsible for successfully transforming Ashland from a $10B conglomerate of businesses into a high-margin specialty chemicals company with revenues in excess of $2.5B that focuses on life sciences, coatings, personal care, and other differentiated products. Peter 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?
At its core, being a top GC requires an ability to function both as a partner and advisor to the current leadership to achieve their current business goals, as well as being a guardian of the organization’s long-term interests. Sometimes these two roles work nicely in tandem; sometimes there can be tension between the two. The “art” of being a GC, and the true value to the company, often lies in balancing the two roles without losing the trust and confidence of anyone involved. Ultimately, you want to be in a position where all of the key constituencies within the corporation want your involvement even when the issue is not strictly “legal.”
In order to be a top legal leader, what do you see as the most important areas for a GC’s development?
The challenge for any GC is to move beyond being just a skilled provider of legal advice to the client. You have to become both a true business partner to the senior team as well as the guardian of the organization’s integrity and long-term interests. It is critical to have a deep understanding of the business and relevant markets in the context of broader ethics, standards, and values.
What are some of the significant challenges you faced in your executive role and how did you resolve them?
During the course of my career as a GC, I have always been involved with organizations going through a transition in one form or another. In some cases, the transition was part of a growth strategy, and in other scenarios, the emphasis was on reducing the size. In any change environment, the GC should have a special role, not just to protect the organization’s legal interests in affecting the change, but also in making sure the company is asking the right questions of itself.
What are the best “words to live by” that you want to share with other GCs?
Seek first to understand the questions before you come up with answers. These words have served me well over the years.
What are you passionate about?
Continuing to learn new things. One of the reasons why being a GC is so interesting is that there always is a new issue or subject with which to deal. It is rarely dull.
How have you helped others succeed?
Mentoring lawyers in the legal group and helping them achieve their potential has always been my favorite part of the GC role. I have developed four of my direct reports to become successful GCs of major public companies in their own right over the years, including three women. I am proud of that.
What do you wish you knew early in your in-house role?
Of course, I wish I knew of the BarkerGimore senior advisors to help me learn how to be a successful GC, but the program didn’t exist back in those dark ages. Seriously, I wish I knew more about the GC’s role in being a trusted advisor, confidant, and partner to the CEO and the board of directors on issues far beyond core “legal issues.” Apart from being a mentor to lawyers in my group, fulfilling that unique position with the CEO and board as we dealt with the most important issues facing the company was the best part of the job.
As a BarkerGilmore advisor, where do you see yourself adding the biggest value to GCs and/or their legal departments?
Being a GC is the best job in the legal world in my view. However, it can be an isolating position within a company since you have no true peers. Serving as a supportive, independent resource to a current or aspiring GC to help him or her develop as a successful executive and leader is where I can make a significant positive impact. Because I have been in the seat and dealt with the myriad challenges of the GC role, I understand what they are facing and can help them navigate the course.
Coaching and Advising from Peter Ganz
If you’re looking for a strategic advisor with decades of experience as General Counsel, contact Peter Ganz today.