ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN STAFFING SUCCESS MAGAZINE (MARCH-APRIL 2004)
By Luanne Crayton
Spherion’s general counsel needed help. As the staffing company acquired other firms, it was growing by leaps and bounds, and the lawyer was working around the clock to keep up with all the paperwork. One night, or rather early morning, laden with documents at a financial printer’s office, he commented that he could use some assistance.
A lawyer from an outside law firm who was working with him heard his plea. And he knew the solution: Her name was Lisa Iglesias, a lawyer at the firm Greenberg Traurig, and she specialized in corporate securities, mergers, and acquisitions.
That’s how Iglesias got her start in the staffing industry in the late 1990s: “Deal, after deal, after deal,” as she describes it. After Spherion, headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, FL, acquired Iglesias to handle the transactions, the company acquired 14 other firms in six months.
Iglesias had her doubts about leaving a law firm to become associate counsel for a corporation. Would the excitement of working with a variety of clients on different matters give way to the drudgery of facing the same, dry corporate matters every day?
“I was surprised to learn that it was nothing like that,” she says.
Today, she serves as Spherion’s general counsel, senior vice president, and secretary, and she is a member of the ASA board of directors.
Iglesias finds just as much variety in staffing—among the people and the projects—as she had enjoyed previously in her career.
“From a legal perspective, the issues we face in the staffing industry are interesting because the industry is about people,” she says. “People are complicated … and they don’t come without issues.”
She adds that different clients and types of workplaces contribute to the mix.
“Your company’s processes have to mesh with the client’s,” she notes. “But you need to keep things consistent within your own corporate culture and maintain the employee’s identity as your employee, even in different client environments.”
The economy keeps things interesting as well.
“When I joined the staffing industry, it was fast paced, and we were looking for candidates,” Iglesias says. “But then the cycle turned, and we began to look for orders.
“Each side of the cycle has its own challenges,” she observes. When business is plentiful, the biggest issue for the legal department is “capacity—keeping up with new projects and timely review of contracts.”
An economic downswing can be even more challenging—reassigning employees as quickly as possible after a customer layoff, keeping costs down, and the like. “Litigation tends to increase during those times,” she says.
Policy of Honesty
“A strong communicator—precise, clear, and concise,” is how Spherion associate counsel Kelly Rosenbaum describes Iglesias. “Lisa believes in being candid and honest, and you never have to read her mind.”
“A cardinal business rule,” says Iglesias, “is honest communication with the people you interact with. It’s a simple thing, but hard to do, especially when the topic is unpleasant.”
She points out that many of the challenges she and her staff encounter in the legal department can be traced to poor communication.
“People interpret information through their own lens, and when they’re not getting complete information, things can be misinterpreted,” she says.
Less than a year after Iglesias joined Spherion, the general counsel retired, and she was promoted to fill the position.
“Having just doubled in size, the company was at a crossroads,” she recalls. Corporate growth is often accompanied by restructuring, and Spherion leaders began to develop a “new mold, looking forward to what the company was becoming,” Iglesias says.
The firm’s legal team was composed of generalists, and at this point in its development, Spherion needed specialists. The entire department was reorganized.
“I was a brand new manager, new to the company, and new to the industry. And I had to lay off people—skilled, wonderful people—who had given good service to the company.”
It was a monumental challenge—one Iglesias overcame with communication. “I tried to overcommunicate and talk to everybody, as early as possible, and give them as much information as possible.”
Several years have passed. But because of the support the company gave to these employees during the restructuring, and because of the relationships Iglesias built with them during the short time they worked together, she is still in contact with them. “They’re doing well,” she says.
A Life of Learning
Learning has been a lifelong passion for Iglesias. “I throw myself in and learn as much as possible about a new line of work or industry,” she says.
Her quest for knowledge makes an impression on those around her.
“When I came to Spherion,” recalls Rosenbaum, “I was struck by Lisa’s grasp of how the entire company functions. She makes it a point to understand every aspect of the business, and it makes her a better lawyer for the company.”
Jonathan Awner of Akerman Senterfitt in Miami serves as Spherion’s outside corporate counsel. “Lisa grasps concepts quickly,” he observes, “even if she hasn’t encountered them before. And she’s able to sort through the numerous matters that are referred to her and focus on what’s critical.”
An avid reader, Iglesias learns the lessons of history, politics, and world affairs through books—and applies them to her work. A recent favorite: a book on submarine warfare.
“My uncle was an Army general who led a battalion of helicopter gunships,” she says, explaining why that topic appealed to her. “Although I would never have considered such a career for myself, I loved his stories about battles.”
While there are similarities in the strategies of war and business, she points out an important difference: War is “strategy with high stakes. The stakes are lower in law—sometimes you can write a check to resolve a situation.”
Occasionally, legal fiction makes her reading list. Earlier this year, she read four John Grisham novels in a row. “I’m not getting enough law at work,” she quips, adding, “After four, perhaps I’m done with those now.”
Iglesias encourages others to make learning a priority as well. To ASA members, she says, “Take full advantage of ASA. Investigate the resources available—the convention and other learning opportunities, and resources from the Web. So much help is available. You’re missing out if you don’t take advantage of it.”