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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

August 25, 2020

Q&A – Barbara Rogan, SVP and General Counsel, NeoPhotonics

Julie Q. Brush

Barbara Rogan is the SVP, and General Counsel of NeoPhotonics, a leading developer and manufacturer of ultra-pure light lasers and optoelectronic products. Barbara has served at the legal helm since 2020 and prior to her current role, was the General Counsel of Velodyne Lidar. After earning her JD and LLM in Intellectual Property, Barbara chose the corporate path to hone her sharp legal skills at companies including Fair Isaac, Brocade and Cadence Design Systems where she served as a Vice President. Barbara brought her superb commercial and technology know-how to her first General Counsel role and has never looked back. Throughout Barbara’s career, she has possessed the intellectual curiosity and desire to evolve as a professional and always be her best. Her excellence is inspiring!

Barbara was kind enough to provide her wonderful insights and advice on the current pandemic and the professional landscape. (Note: my interview with Barbara pre-dated the death of George Floyd and does not include the important topics stemming from the event).

Thank you Barbara!

From an executive’s perspective, how can an employee increase his/her value to the organization during these challenging times?

Assuming you’ve already got the basics mastered – which are excellent at communication and are flexible – you can add the most value to your organization by bringing solutions to problems.  It does not matter if the problems are outside of your area of expertise, if you can can bring a solution, do so.

I use the somewhat awkward-sound phrase “bring a solution” on purpose.  The usual way to say it is to say “find” a solution.  I don’t like that phrasing because “finding” something implies that others are going to do the work.  When you bring a solution, you bring not only the answer for the problem, but also the project plan to get it done, the potential budget, your ideas for resources to get it done and your suggestions on who will be doing what work.  To show you’re not afraid of doing the work, you should make sure to include the work you will be doing in your solution plan.  Employees that display this type of solution thinking are highly valued by their bosses and their companies.

What is your advice to other GC/CLOs and managers on how to best lead their teams right now?

With a lot of legal teams working from home, GC/CLO’s need to mindful of the additional burdens many of their team members are experiencing.  In particular, their team members who are responsible for the care of their children or their parents, may find themselves trying to manage school, childcare, or parental care without the usual supports of school, daycare, or home health aids.  Most GC/CLO’s have probably told their team they understand, but the best legal team members often do not want to speak up for fear of seeming like they are not dedicated.  So it’s important for GC/CLO’s to check in often with their team members about what they are balancing and how the GC/CLO can help.

           Barbara Rogan

You have recently transitioned to your current role. What is your advice about taking risks right now?

This is a tough economy, but if you have an opportunity and the opportunity is a good one, go for it.  There really is never a perfect time to take a chance so all you can do is take a reasonable risk when the opportunity presents itself.

What is a “reasonable risk” you ask?  Of course, you must do your research. That’s a non-negotiable step one.  But, a risk should feel “risky” meaning that you should feel slightly on edge.  You should not feel terrified about an opportunity. Short-hand terror equals don’t do it.  However, if, after you do your research, you feel a little anxious, but overall you believe this is the right step for your career, go for it!  Don’t wait.

Starting a new job in this climate is different and more challenging.  When you start a new job, there is always this honeymoon period where you’re excited to be in the new role, you’re meeting new people, and you’re working on new types of work.  That honeymoon period lasts about a month or so.

Then comes the “slog”.  The slog is the tough part of the new job where you’re not as effective or efficient as you know you can be simply because you don’t know the job yet.  You don’t know how things are done, you don’t know who to talk with, and you don’t know the politics of the company.  You’re frustrated with yourself because you are used to getting something done in X amount of time and it’s taking you 2-3X the amount of time.  The slog lasts a couple of months, but eventually the job gets easier and you get back your old efficiency.  If you don’t realize the slog is just a normal part of the on-boarding process at a new job, you risk believing either you’re not good/smart/effective or you hate the job.

I have found that starting a new role while working remotely, having met most of my colleagues only once or twice in person, has made the slog harder.  Without facial expressions and body language, it is a challenge to know how hard to push or whether I’m successfully connecting with folks.  To gauge your effectiveness and success, I am making extra efforts to communicate and am asking a lot of questions.  However, the extra effort is worth it!

Top 3 ways the professional world will change after Covid-19?

#1 – Flexible Schedules are here to stay – There’s been a lot of talk in the media about how remote work will become the norm.  I do not think that is going to be the case.  Anyone who has spent a day on conference calls and been exhausted at the end knows that in-person interaction will be coming back.  What I do see making a big change is the increased use of flexible schedules. While you will be in the office at least some or most of the time, people have proven that they can be efficient and dedicated working from home.  Since the downside has been definitely disproven, I think employers will be more willing to offer this inexpensive perk.

#2 – Be prepared to justify added spend – With all the uncertainties facing the economy, even companies that are doing well, will be extremely cautious for the remainder of the year. We don’t know if there is going to be a recovery, whether the recovery will be a “V” shaped recovery or take longer, or whether we are going to have to shelter-at-home again in the coming months. Remember that in the 1918 flu epidemic, most of the deaths came in October after a hiatus over the 1918 summer, so fall 2020 could be worse than spring 2020.  Because we do not know what is coming, wise companies will want to make sure their money is well spent.

#3 – Face masks are here to stay – While people in Asian countries have been wearing face mask for some time, wearing face masks in public is new for us in the U.S.  It’s unfortunate that wearing a face mask has become such a partisan issue because face masks really do reduce the spread of disease.  Even after the Covid-19 pandemic is over, I foresee that wearing face masks during cold and flu season when you are feeling under the weather or when you’re traveling in crowded places like airplanes will continue and become part of our social norm.  Frankly, it’s just common decency to wear them and we ought to be encouraging folks to do so.

What have you learned about yourself during this pandemic?

I think often about my family and what they went through in tough times before me.  I think of my grandmother and how she was incorrectly notified in WW2 that my grandfather had been killed in action, I think of my maternal great-grandmother who was left a widow with a small child by the 1918 flu epidemic, and I think of my paternal great-grandmother who had the courage to leave her abusive husband and take her two young children during the Great Depression.  If my grandparents and great-grandparents could survive and thrive with those challenges, I can certainly have nothing to complain about in working from home with my kids and husband.

What are you doing to stay mentally and physically healthy while you are quarantined?

Exercise and cooking!  I make sure that exercise each and every morning.  Without it, I find it difficult to focus during the day.  Then I make sure that I take a pause in my workday each day at 5:30 to 6:00pm to cook dinner for my family.  I’m not great at planning ahead meal-wise, so I’ve been getting a meal kit service.  It is wonderful because you can do your cooking but the shopping and planning is already done for you.

I am also focusing on the gift of additional time with my family.  It truly has been a gift to get to spend additional time with my daughters (14 and 17) and my husband. Our normal schedules are quite busy with intense work schedules and extracurricular activities.  Pre-Covid, it was not uncommon for the four of us to not be in the house all together all weekend.  So, I am relishing and truly enjoying daily lunches and dinners with my family.

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