At a San Francisco session of the 2012 chief legal officer leadership forum, Thomas M’Guinness of Visa was interviewed by Steve Zipperstien, formerly of Verizon Wireless. The Subject of the interview was effective leadership strategies moving forward in the legal sector. For M’Guinness, in uncertain economic times, it is necessary to lead through change, fostering a culture of courage and open-mindedness. M’Guinness began by relaying some background information on Visa and some of the changes that the company had undergone since he started there in 1997. When he began, he said, each of Visa’s regions were autonomous and issued credit cards through banks in their individual regions, which meant that Visa had seven CEOs, seven general counsels, and so on across the board. In 2005 and 2006, though, M’Guinness and other executives embarked on a globetrotting quest of reorganization and restructuring, dealing with the politics of seven different tops of the Visa house. M’Guinness and other executives had to then convince each of the seven groups of higher-ups to agree on a uniform future for the company, which ultimately led to Visa going public and restructuring the company through those channels. The legal department specifically, M’Guinniss said, had benefitted from the restructuring of the company, since most of the employees of that department before the IPO were still with the company at the time of the interview. The legal department had also expanded to include over 100 professionals, who deal with regulations and law suits in countries around the world, dealing with government affairs as they arise: “Roughly, we have organized ourselves around a litigation practice, a corporate practice, a government relations practice, and smaller practice like governance and those kinds of things. For the most part there is a lead for each of those areas and that lead, I think in every case, is in California. We also have geographic leads outside of California in various hub locations.” Since the company went public, M’Guinness implied, the legal department had become more capable of handling the various local authorities that must be dealt with since Visa is spread so far across the globe.
M’Guinness was also interested in the various opportunities presented to the new Visa to outsource some work to outside counsel, freeing internal lawyers to focus on innovative approaches: “It’s a little plastic card that people buy things with, but the reality is behind the curtains it’s a very complex business. We have products in multiple countries – debit, credit, prepaid – endless technologies that are currently emerging. There is plenty of work to spread around to outside counsel.”