Peter A. Allard School of Law alum, Shari Hosaki (JD ‘90), Vice-President Associate General Counsel at Indigo, forged a path for herself in the corporate field as in-house and general counsel at numerous large companies, standing out as an impressive leader and team manager. We spoke to her about her career so far, how she got her start, and working in a male-dominated field.
Allard Law: You have a wide array of experience in the corporate/commercial field. What do you think has made you so successful?
Shari Hosaki: It is a complement to be described as successful. I feel that my career path has not been set to any master plan or strategy, but it has been more about working hard and being authentic in a world that was in many ways foreign to me at the beginning of my career. I came from a working class family. My grandfather started a very successful business and my father ran it for many years. The work ethic was definitely role modeled for me but I did not know any corporate leaders or lawyers, nor did I have any idea what the legal world was like other than what I saw on television. So, my career has been about drawing on my strengths—such as my work ethic—relating to people and trying hard to stay grounded in my values and integrity. Luckily, that recipe has helped to see me through many years.
AL: What do you feel is the biggest issue coming to the forefront of corporate/commercial law? Do you think our legal system is adequately prepared to deal with it and if not, what could lawyers do to prepare?
SH: The biggest issue facing corporate commercial law is the adaptability of private practice to the needs of the in-house bar. As demands placed on the in-house bar continue to expand, the need for business-focused advice and flexible fee structures are increasing. Law firms have been very slow to change to adapt to these needs. Very few firms, if any, are changing their approach to get to know their clients’ true needs and in what way they need services delivered. They are very focused on delivering legal services in the ways that they have been delivered for decades and under the same fee models. The first firm to be able to figure this out and truly change the game will have a huge competitive advantage. There are firms around the globe who are changing the model and Canada is slowly beginning to awaken. We need to be faster if we want to compete in a global economy.
AL: A large part of your experience has been centered on change management. What have you found to be the most rewarding/challenging about this type of work?
SH: Understanding how to navigate and embed change in an organization is very important, particularly for in-house counsel. In addition to substantive law, lawyers in my department have project management skills and high emotional intelligence. These skills, along with their natural attention to detail, make them magnets for further and more challenging work in the organization. As an example, at Cadbury Adams, I was asked to lead a cross-functional project to locate, design, build and relocate a new head office for our newly integrated business. It was a challenging, non-legal project that tested all of my skills…and developed ones I never knew I had, many of which were change-management related. I learned a lot about leadership, and as the leader of the legal department the department came to be perceived in a bit of a different light by those outside of the department…more for the broader skill set that we could bring to the table than the legal ‘gatekeeper’ or negotiator. That was a huge win. A big price, but a huge win!
AL: You have done work internationally for Cadbury/Cadbury Schweppes PLC. What would you say were the most useful, transferrable skills with respect to responding to such things as hostile takeovers and leading change within an organization?
SH: Leadership skills are always the most ‘transferable’ skills to have. People are the most important asset in any organization and whether it is leading people or leading change, the skills that enable you to truly connect with people, communicate openly and lead in an authentic manner are critical to success in any organizational setting.
AL: What would be your recommendation to women pursuing this field of law?
SH: I think women in all areas of law and at all levels should support one another. Whether in the in-house context or private practice, women entering law should seek out senior level mentors who not only share their chosen area of practice but who share their value system. It is important to seek out mentors who are authentic and who mirror the type of leader that they aspire to be. I also advise women to be courageous about advocating for themselves and to be strategic about what they want from their careers. If you do not know where you want to go, you are less likely to get there! I was not very strategic about mapping out my career path. It worked out well for me, but I was lucky. If I could give my younger self some sage advice, it would be to be more strategic about career planning.
AL: Who are your female role models, how have they helped shape your views/opinions?
SH: My female role model was my paternal grandmother. She and my grandfather supported a family of six children through the Second World War and a Japanese-Canadian internment camp when they had lost everything. From poverty, they built back a very successful family and business. My grandmother was incredibly strong and yet she was the most generous and compassionate woman I knew. She showed me that you can be strong and intelligent and also be generous and kind without being seen as weak. Some people think that if you show generosity, kindness or compassion, you will be seen as weak, particularly women trying to prove their worth in male-dominated fields. That is patently untrue.