SVP and GC of Sage Software Rachel Gervin explains how to exemplify a life of leadership and how she helped her organization acclimate to a brand new in-house legal team
Rachel Gervin is on top of her game, serving as the Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Sage Software, Inc. , the North American Subsidiary of a UK-based enterprise with over six million customers and 13,600 employees around the globe. Like most C-level executives, she has worked diligently to get to where she is and continues to strive for new heights in her career. She has not allowed the fact that she is a double minority in a once predominantly Caucasian male-dominated sector to hinder her corporate rising. In fact, educational and professional excellence seems to run in Gervin’s blood; her mother earned a doctorate degree and her grandmother earned a master’s degree, and along with her husband of 13 years (who has also earned a doctorate degree) she’s leading her daughters in the same direction.
From Outside to Inside Counsel
Gervin was hired by Sage North America in 2003 as the first in house lawyer for its small business division. Prior to joining the company, she spent time as a commercial and securities litigation attorney for several law firms in the Washington, DC area. While she enjoyed litigation, she never found the right mentors and sponsors that are necessary, especially for women and minorities in large law firms to make progress and find a real fit.
She left Washington, DC and moved to the Atlanta area in 2003 and joined Sage, but there are several things she learned while at the firms that readied her for success as a leader of a corporate legal department, one of which is that that she is “risk averse.” Gervin realized she has a tendency to be conservative with her decisions and that she appreciates stability over volatility. “I know there is great reward in taking great risk… but I like to be the stable one.” This is why, she said, she chose to sign on with a well-established, 30-year old software company – the only technology stock that’s publicly traded on the London Stock Exchange. “It’s as safe as you can get in technology,” she said.
Creating a Proactive Department
When she began at Sage, Gervin had to grow the legal department for her business unit essentially from the ground up. Because the company was accustomed to using outside counsel exclusively, Gervin had to help them see the value of an in-house legal department. Instead of taking the reactive approach to legal issues that the company was familiar with, Gervin took the reins with a distinctively proactive mentality. She joined the leadership team and started advising real-time on decisions the company was making. She also met with the marketing team and sales team, with the help of her paralegal, reviewed each marketing piece that came through the door to preempt any legal issues, and hosted training sessions to explain the benefits of having an in house legal team.
Gervin explained the workers’ initial reaction to and how they acclimated to the new legal department. “It’s was kind of a mixed bag at first. There were some fits and starts along the way, but I learned a ton from them, and I think they learned a lot from me… They very quickly saw the value of having someone there that knows them, knows the business, knows the products, and can give advice real-time.”
Leadership vs. Management
While leadership and management are interrelated and equally integral to the role of an attorney or an executive, Gervin explained that there is a distinct difference between the two. Management involves the tactical, day-to-day operations. It’s about meeting the needs of your team. Perfunctory tasks such as assigning duties, recording information, performance management, and compensation are all a part of management.
Leadership, on the other hand, is about modeling behavior that supports your team’s growth and development. It’s about mutual encouragement and edifying those around you through your actions, words, and behavior. Gervin exercises her leadership by empowering her team. She encourages them to get outside the office, hone new skills, volunteer for professional organizations, and take part in panels. “As professionals,” she said, “we have to focus on our careers. You have to carve out time to do that. Make sure you are keeping your resume current; make sure your [skills] are refreshed and relevant…so you can be the best you can be.”
Gervin also strives to empower herself through her own professional development. She became active in the Association for Corporate Counsel, first as a member and now as president of the Georgia chapter. She touts her involvement there as great sources of leadership experience, skill set diversification, and exposure. She attends conferences and seminars, looks for speaking engagements, and sits on several different panels. Being involved forces you to manage your time better and become a better leader, which can be of huge benefit to yourself, your company, and your team, Gervin explained.
Leadership as a Lifestyle
Gervin’s energetic, engaging, thoughtful leadership style isn’t just a part of her profession, but also her life as whole. She believes deeply in being a leader both in the company and in the community. “I have a really deep sense of justice, and I feel like you don’t get to complain about things being unfair unless you are willing to work to make them better. And you start by working in your own community,” she said. Her grandmother and mother, professional matriarchs in their own right, both exemplified these values; Gervin naturally absorbed them. She gets knee deep in various projects and organizations as acts of personal growth and of service, from starting a Girl Scout troop to becoming treasurer of the PTA.
She also urges young leaders to use every corporate and community engagement as an opportunity to “netweave,” to develop real relationships with people all along the way. “Even if it doesn’t directly benefit you, it’s putting good karma out there. That’s a sign of a true leader; to be able to have and maintain those types of relationships and to try not to burn any bridges along the way.” Considering Gervin’s jam-packed agenda and impressive resume, she is undoubtedly walking her talk, steering her team to greatness and leaving a legacy of leadership. ♦
Lessons from the Firm World
Gervin shared three of the most powerful things she learned during her years as an outside attorney that have served her well.
- There are no rough drafts. Polish it up and give it 110 percent. Your work product is a core element of your reputation.
- Keep digging for answers and exhaust all your own efforts before asking for help. You will learn more by challenging yourself rather than taking the easy way out.
- Client and colleague relations are very valuable, no matter your professional platform. Place high importance on building strong relationships.
Photos by Luis Mendoza; Studio Mendoza Photography
Rachel's Key Partners:Bodker, Ramsey, Andrews, Winograd & Wildstein, P.C. (Litigation matters) | Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP (Innovative Legal Solutions) | Patrick Law Group, LLC (Technology, Procurement & Construction) | Kilpatrick, Townsend & Stockton LLP (Outside Counsel)
Professional profiles, photojournalism, and legal writing are Sunny's specialties; her personal, creative, edgy approach makes her stand apart in the industry. Her clientele has included over three dozen law firms around the country; international businesses such as LiveStrong and Howcast; American favorites like Family Fun and Natural News; and regional publications such as Rutherford Woman and Conch Color.
As a mom of six, fitness enthusiast, and self-employed business woman, she stays busy in her island home with her middle school sweetheart and husband Michael, and makes time to travel regularly. If she's not jogging on down the islands, shooting an event, or writing up a storm, you can find her at Sunfire Creatives or on Facebook.
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