Ben Heineman was one of the most powerful lawyers in the corporate world when he was GE’s general counsel. It was a role he played for the best part of two decades under Jack Welch and then Jeff Immelt. Now a senior fellow at Harvard’s law and government schools, he has written a book called High Performance with High Integrity, outlining his vision of how companies can be both profitable and ethical.
In this 16-minute podcast, he says a company’s top in-house lawyer must be a partner to the CEO but also a guardian of the organisation’s integrity and reputation (that goes for the chief financial officer too). He tells of his method for presenting his legal recommendations – and his analysis of legal grey areas – to Messrs Welch and Immelt. He suggests that company boards meet regularly with the general counsel and the chief financial officer without the CEO being present in order to reinforce independence. He even lets me drag him into a discussion about private investigators and Michael Clayton, the movie that featured a memorably immoral general counsel played by Tilda Swinton, who won an Oscar for her performance.
You can listen to our conversation by clicking here. You can also click here for ways of subscribing to this and other Management Blog podcasts through iTunes or other podcast software. I’d also recommend a profile of Brackett Denniston, the man who succeeded Mr Heineman as GE general counsel, that was published in the FT in 2005. And here’s another FT story from the same year about GE’s attempts to encourage staff to report wrongdoing.