Earlier this year, BarkerGilmore was asked to recommend women who are leaders in the legal profession, women who could be next in line to be General Counsel at a public company. Known as the R3-100 List from InsideCounsel’s Women, Influence and Power in Law network, it features women in law in five areas: intellectual property, compliance, litigation, governance and securities, and M&A/transactions/generalist.
These are women who report directly to the General Counsel, have frequent contact with the executive suite and board and substantial leadership skills as well as experience. We consider it a privilege to have worked with these talented women who contribute so much to the profession.
This is the second in a three-part series sharing their stories and insights.
Jennifer Hein, General Counsel, NRG Renew
Hein brings 20 years of legal experience to NRG Renew, providing oversight of the company’s acquisition and development activities. She has broad experience representing both developers and lenders in connection with the development, construction and project financing of electric energy generating facilities.
(BG) Explain some of the responsibilities of your role. What is a typical day like for you?
(JH) I have three senior counsels who report to me within Renew. One focuses primarily on wind, one focuses on utility-scale solar, and one focuses on distributed generation. We are all primarily transactional lawyers, so we manage the negotiation and documentation of all transactions, including acquisitions and financings.
On a typical day, there’s always diligence related to potential acquisitions. We always have a number of deals in the works and our first task is to determine whether those deals are well-structured. We also field questions relating to our operating assets. Not only do we build and develop these projects, we also manage them on a long-term basis. Finally, we spend a significant portion of our days negotiating acquisition documents and financing documents for any project or portfolio.
We work most closely with our finance group, which is also involved in diligence to make sure the deals work for us and meet our required returns. In addition, we work closely with environmental, asset management, accounting, and tax departments.
Building on the work we have done, last year, NRG Energy launched the first IPO in the US of a renewable power yield company to own and operate a diversified portfolio of long-term contracted renewable energy, conventional generation facilities and thermal infrastructure assets in the US.
(BG) What keeps you up at night?
(JH) Having conquered the traditional utility-scale US market, we have expanded our sights to include new structures, new products and new geographies. As a result, my priorities are constantly shifting. We pride ourselves on being responsive to our internal clients. If a question can be handled quickly, we will answer it in real-time. Every question is important, whether it relates to a $1.6 billion plant in construction or access to an operating plant. Legal handles a wide-range of questions, some of which definitely keep me up at night!
(BG) Tell us about a time when you took a risk that paid off.
(JH) It was pivotal point for me in my career. I was a sixth-year associate, happily working at a law firm. I received a cold call from the GC of an energy company. He had graduated from UVA Law just like me and was looking for a transactional lawyer to support the energy trading division. I said, “You understand I don’t know anything about the energy trading industry,” and he said that was OK. I had the right foundational skills, and I could learn the industry.
I accepted that position, which was my introduction to the energy industry in 1998.
(BG) What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to be General Counsel?
(JH) The two most important attributes to becoming General Counsel are experience and confidence. Help out on whatever projects you can, whether it’s in your job description or not. You’ll get a broader base of experience, and you’ll be known as a person to rely on to get things done. When you do undertake a task, be sure you’re ethically comfortable with it, and do it the right way from a practical sense. It doesn’t pay to take shortcuts.
Also, remember to step back and think “big picture” from time to time. We can all get lured into the daily details of the tasks we have to complete. I keep a weekly reminder on my calendar of certain questions that I ask myself, focusing on how we can grow and improve NRG Renew.
BarkerGilmore specializes in recruiting legal counsel with both the skill set and the cultural fit for companies of all sizes, including Fortune 500 companies like NRG Energy.
For more advice on recruiting and retaining talent that is the best possible fit for your corporate culture, download our free guide, “How to Recruit Top General Counsel.”