General Counsel Q&A: Law Department Goals Are “Inseparable” from Those of the Business, Says Heather Stern of Whole Foods Market Inc.

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Heather Stern, Global Vice President, Legal Affairs and General Counsel of Whole Foods Market Inc., recently spoke with Thomson Reuters’ Practical Law The Journal: Transactions & Business (PLJ) about her law department’s top goals and the best career advice she has ever received.

PLJ: How is the legal function structured?

Heather Stern: The legal function is structured like a typical law firm. We have two transactional teams. One focuses on our operations and handles contracts and issues related to merchandising, food safety, and regulations; the other focuses on intellectual property, technology, and privacy matters. We also have an employment law team, a litigation team, and a governance team, which focuses on compliance issues and training.

PLJ: What are the top goals or areas of focus for the law department?

Heather Stern: Our goals are really inseparable from the goals of the business. Because we are a support function, our job is to support the business teams in meeting the operational and sales goals and the initiatives that the company has developed.

Read the full interview in the September issue of Practical Law The Journal: Transactions & Business.

We evaluate those goals and initiatives as a team and develop our goals so that we can ensure that we are prioritizing and focusing our attention where the business needs us the most.

Heather Stern, Global Vice President, Legal Affairs and General Counsel of Whole Foods Market Inc.

PLJ: What three things does a law firm need to do to impress you?

Heather Stern: I think about three things when I consider whether I want to call a law firm again:

  1. Is the law firm responsive? I am sure this is a popular response, but it really is true that when we are faced with a crisis, large or small, we need an answer quickly. I cannot wait a day or two for someone to get back to me.
  2. Is the law firm knowledgeable with respect to my company and my industry? It is important that the law firm understands the general and specific problems that a food retailer may face.
  3. Is the law firm willing to work with me with respect to legal fees?

PLJ: If not an attorney, what would you wish to be?

Heather Stern: I would be a pastry chef or own my own bakery. I love my job, but I am happiest when I am baking with my daughter. It is a fulfilling, creative outlet and extremely relaxing. Plus, people love you when you bake them a nice treat!

PLJ: What is the best career advice you have ever received?

Heather Stern: The best career advice I have ever received is “run toward the chaos.” What that means is that when a situation becomes complicated, difficult, tough, or scary, run toward it instead of away from it. You will find that is how you get more depth of experience and make connections that you would not otherwise make.

Raise your hand when the opportunity to work on a new project arises. Do not shy away from something outside your comfort zone. I have run toward the chaos many times in my career and although it has sometimes been difficult, I have never regretted it.

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