NETGEAR General Counsel Andrew Kim on the benefits of having a “lean department.”
By Mildred C. Fallen
As Senior Vice President of Corporate Development, General Counsel and Company Secretary of NETGEAR, Inc., a worldwide provider of innovative networking solutions for small businesses and homes, Andrew Kim’s work touches every aspect of the company.
Headquartered in San Jose, California, and with additional offices in 25 countries, NETGEAR specializes in reliable, easy-to-use networking products, such as wireless Internet routers, access points, switches and storage devices for homes and businesses.
Kim recently hired a lawyer to cover Europe, and he hopes to hire another to cover Asia, the company’s fastest growing market. This April, Kim and team acquired the AirCard business of Sierra Wireless for $141 million, NETGEAR’s largest deal to date.
Staying on top of everything with a small legal team—four attorneys, including himself, and a paralegal—is no easy feat, but Kim is no stranger to juggling various responsibilities. When he came to NETGEAR in 2008, he was only the second lawyer in the department. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder in my life,” the Cornell Law School graduate remarked.
Kim hit the ground sprinting to keep up with the new culture. Coming from a background specializing in one type of law as a Corporate Securities Attorney for Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, where he served as Special Counsel, Kim assumed ownership of his new position, learning to become versed in anything legal that came through the door.
“Luckily, I had some good mentors and I reached out to people both within and outside the company to learn how they did things,” he said. “It was a large learning curve.”
Kim had been with the company five months when its General Counsel—the only other attorney in Legal at the time—left the company to accept another position. Having demonstrated a sense of being up for a good challenge, Kim was promoted to the newly vacant role and for the next six months served as NETGEAR’s one-person Legal Department.
“I was able to hire my ‘No. 2’ six months after that. I hired an IP litigator because we were buried in all of these patent lawsuits, basically in constant litigation with patent trolls,” Kim said. “Then it was just the three of us. Maybe a year and a half or so ago, we hired a paralegal, and this past August, our first international hire in Europe. We’re hoping to grow some more this year by hiring a couple more people.”
“The other execs make fun of me and say I’ve ‘quadrupled the size’ of my department from when I started,” Kim said, chuckling.
Thinking Back to Kindergarten
For Kim, there are many advantages to having what he calls “a lean department.” “Obviously when you have such a small department, everybody has to get along with each other,” he said. He takes pride in having a highly responsive department that the rest of the company depends on.
In terms of management style, Kim encourages his fellow Legal Department staffers to assume ownership of projects. He does not believe in micromanaging them, deferring to his main mantra that there is no substitute for hard work while maintaining an easygoing approach.
Referencing the book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum—a book Kim admits he has never read, “but the title pretty much says it all”—Kim’s advice for success in best supporting clients is to learn how to manage internal politics and not step on other people’s toes. Whether people realize it or not, he points out that there are simple skills most of us are taught as children that follow us as truths through to adulthood.
“There’s a certain way you treat people, with fair play and just respect, and I think those basic values in life are the things that kind of coach you when you’re older,” Kim said. “How to get along with people and treating people with integrity, I think, are the things that are going to make you successful, and not worrying about little things like how much you’re getting paid or what your title is. People don’t care about that kind of stuff. They want to enjoy working with you and trust that you’re going to do a good job and you’re not going to do something to make them look bad.”
Teamwork is important for Kim. There are times when he and his team put in at least 100 hours a week per person. Still, Kim prefers working as an in-house attorney and being part of a team to working at a firm.
“When you’re in a law firm, you’re working for all these various other different clients but you don’t have any skin in the game,” Kim said. “When you’re working at a place where you have equity in the company, you feel like everything you do, ultimately you’re helping yourself by helping the company. So in that sense, you’re just a lot more invested and it makes it a lot more enjoyable. It feels less like a job and less like work because at the end of the day, you just enjoy yourself a lot more.”
Mildred C. Fallen is a freelance writer from Cincinnati, Ohio.