Alex Green always knew he wanted to be a lawyer. In fact, he always knew he wanted to be a general counsel. Since high school, he recalls, becoming a lawyer was his goal—and nothing was going to get in the way.
But his path to the GC seat wasn’t exactly a typical one. Green graduated from Indiana University with a degree in business in 1987. But before jumping into a suit and tie, he donned a different uniform—that of a Dallas Cowboys football player. Green signed as a free agent, played for half a season, then headed to his hometown of Chicago.
In the Windy City, Green landed a job at American National Bank and began preparing for the LSAT. The next year, he headed to Northwestern University Law School and started down the path that would ultimately lead to the top legal spot at CareerBuilder, the largest online employment website in the United States.
How did your career progress immediately after law school?
When I finished at Northwestern, I went to work for a year at Ross & Hardies (now McGuire Woods). I had worked there during a summer and got an offer. A few years later, I left to go work for McDonald’s Corp. At the time, the legal department was a small group. It was a great opportunity for me. They hadn’t brought in someone young for awhile, and they were looking to replenish the legal department. It was a great chance to come out and learn with really bright attorneys. I was there for 10 years.
Then I went to what was then Household Financial, now HSBC, to work in their corporate legal group for one year. Then, after that, I came here to CareerBuilder where I’ve been for almost 10 years.
What type of law were you focusing on at the time?
At Ross & Hardies, I did general corporate work. I was doing a lot of first-year stuff—dealing with corporate finance, some M&A, some real estate, just kind of getting my feet wet in a lot of different corporate areas.
At McDonald’s, it was very general at the start. Because of the size of the group, I got to do a lot of different things in the corporate areas: vendor agreements, some real estate, some franchisee stuff. Then I really moved into corporate finance as my focus. I would say I spent a good portion of my time in corporate finance. Near the end, the treasury department was my main client. I was the lead lawyer for that group.
Why did you decide to go in-house?
When I thought of becoming an attorney, I thought of being in-house. In my mind, that’s the type of attorney I wanted to be. The McDonald’s move was faster than I thought I’d have the chance to go. But it was a very good opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. What I enjoy is being connected to the business. A firm is a great place to learn but it’s not necessarily going to give you that type of connection.
Why did you decide to join CareerBuilder and how did the opportunity come about?
I was fortunate here at CareerBuilder. The CEO Matt Ferguson and I went to law school together, and we kept in touch, so he reached out to me when the opportunity came up.
Like a lot of in-house attorneys, you ultimately want the chance to run your own shop. It was a great opportunity that came at a good time. It was a good chance to start something from scratch and work with a company that was young and entrepreneurial.
I came in as GC. And this was the first dedicated stab at building out the legal group. I was alone for a little while, so it was a great time to learn about the business because you have to deal with all levels—I had the chance on any given day to be dealing with someone who was one of our phone sales people or to be dealing with our CEO.
Tell me a little about your legal department?
We’re at nine including me. We have the legal group, and then we also have a two-person team that does work on data security and privacy, so we just added someone in that group who is a compliance risk analyst.
What are your best practices for adding talent to your department?
For us, the best hires have been people that have been a cultural fit. My main focus when I think about bringing someone in is how he or she is going to get along with our group. I try to form it as a team. There are a lot of people who have that skill set but what’s really important to us is making sure you will fit in with our values and culture as a group.
What are some of your biggest challenges?
From a business standpoint, we are ever-evolving and moving into different areas. We face challenges because we are both international and domestic and that brings up a lot of issues and forces us to think very broadly. From a group standpoint, like a lot of GCs, you face challenges keeping people motivated and excited.
What do you love most about being a lawyer?
Being a lawyer, I like solving problems. I’m a win-win type of personality. I like solving problems and achieving outcomes that are good for both sides.
For CareerBuilder, I like what we do. I like that we are integrally involved in helping companies find qualified people and helping people find jobs. That’s something that is very important, and I’m proud to be a part of it.
Did you have any mentors growing up in your legal career?
I really did learn how to become a corporate attorney at McDonalds. A couple attorneys there were important in my development. One is Bob Switzer, associate general counsel and vice president. He was someone I worked for in the corporate group who helped to guide me. Bryan Adel, now GC of DineEquity, was another person who helped shape my career. I still talk to him quite a bit and bounce things off of him.
What do you think of leadership training programs?
Leadership programs are important for legal department lawyers to develop relationships. When you’re a lawyer at a company, you can get siloed very easily. In leadership programs, if you have the ability to make relationships with people in other areas, who are working in other groups, that’s the advantage. You develop leadership skills of course, but the skills that pay off most for lawyers are getting outside their legal zone and letting people know they’re there and can be helpful and think about business in the right way.
What advice would you give a young lawyer who wants to be the GC of a company someday?
For me, after I was here at CareerBuilder for a year, I went to the University of Chicago and got an MBA. It is important if you want to work in-house and become a GC to try and understand business, the language of business. I tell people, I got my MBA and I’m not going to be CFO tomorrow, but the questions I ask now are so much better than they were before. We’re here and we’re all about the business. The business comes first. You have to be able to understand the issues being discussed and understand that language.
And back to the point about relationships again. Whether you’re out looking for a job or building a network as an in-house counsel with other areas inside the company, developing relationships is critical. You have to gain the trust of the other people you’re working with inside the company. Developing those relationships is a key point.
Editor’s note: Evers Legal has provided services to Alex’s law department at CareerBuilder.