Just four years into her legal career after law school, Andrean Horton set a goal to some day advance to a general counsel or related position.
Now, Horton is Chief Legal Officer & Secretary at Myers Industries, a diversified manufacturing company, and has even done a stint as Interim CEO while the companies looked for a new top executive.
Horton’s career arc spanned years working at a law firm before taking an in-house opportunity at Roadway Express because of her interest in labor and employment. “It was a great place to learn labor and employment working underneath a fantastic assistant general counsel, who trained me,” says Horton.
Gaining key CLO experiences
When Roadway was acquired by YRC Worldwide two years later, Horton was offered a role as assistant general counsel, reporting to the GC of YRC, and giving her the opportunity to be a generalist for the first time in her career. From this point on, Horton said she planned to make career choices in order to acquire the expertise that GCs needed, which includes understanding how the business makes money, learning the workings of the board of directors, and gaining international experience.
Understanding the business — Her role overseeing the legal and regulatory compliance function for YRC gave Horton exposure to the pure operations side of the business. She recalled some excellent advice she received early in her in-house career: “The world does not revolve around the legal department or the legal function, it revolves around operations.”
“When you’re dealing with a particular legal matter, understanding the business’s end goal is is essential.”
Board exposure — Horton’s next strategic career decision brought her to a privately held company whose main business was offering contingent workforce solutions, which allowed her to use her labor and employment expertise. The CEO, a former lawyer, ran the company like a publicly traded company, and as a result, Horton collected critical GC experience by gaining board exposure as the company secretary.
International operations — Knowing that she lacked international experience, Horton’s next move involved taking a step down in title when she accepted a role as senior corporate counsel at another manufacturing company, A. Schulman. Though Horton says that many people were confused by this career move, she made it because she wanted to gain the experience of overseeing legal matters for Schulman’s North and South American operations.
From CLO to Interim CEO
Horton joined Myers Industries as CLO in late-2018 because she was attracted to the company’s strategy of seeking growth beyond its $500 million in revenue. She says she joined to “have a seat at the table and to be part of the decision-making team.”
After only being at the company for a year, Horton made enough of an impression on the board of directors at Myers that the board asked her to serve as interim CEO for six months, from October 2019 to April 2020, while a formal search for a new CEO was being conducted.
Horton says she gained a new appreciation for what CEOs do. One key bit of knowledge: She learned that every part of the business needs the same care and attention. Also, Horton learned that her primary goal was to communicate with the organization to keep everyone informed about what was happening with the formal search of the CEO. And then when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she and her team needed to make the right calls for the company and communicate those as well. She gives credit for her success to an amazing executive team of peers.
Cultivating the skills to lead
Throughout her career, Horton says she knew the importance of deeply understanding the company’s operations, communicating clearly to operate effectively, and managing with compassion for the people you lead.
Learn the business — The number one lesson Horton says she gained in this area is simply to listen. “I think listening to the business and listening in on those operations meetings are critical to really understanding what’s going on in the business, what the pressure points are, and where management is trying to drive the business,” she says. “When you’re dealing with a particular legal matter, understanding the business’s end goal is essential.”
Indeed, Horton outlined a series of questions that lawyers need to answer to be able to understand the broader business context for different legal matters, such as in this case, reviewing a contract:
- What does the contract mean to the company’s bottom line?
- How important is it?
- How long have you been trying to win this business?
- What are the pressure points involved here?
Provide guidance in plan English — Dropping the legalese when interacting with peers and colleagues, in particular, has served Horton well. “It’s very difficult for anybody to want to read a 10-page email,” she quips. To avoid this, she tries to answer questions in a distinct, easily consumable way, speaking as precisely as possible.
Lead to breathe — Perhaps Horton’s biggest learning experience since the onset of the pandemic has been to look at the people she leads holistically and compassionately, and try to understand what they may be going through during this crisis.
“Make sure your team is breathing and that everyone is not just focused on the work aspects of their well-being,” she says, adding that even once the pandemic has passed, “we don’t know what stresses our teammates are going through, and being more mindful that everybody is getting what they need in a more fulfilling way is going to be important.”