The Key to Inspire Leadership: Confidently Ask the Right Questions

Stephanie Harris Issue 12 - July/Aug 2014, Legal Leave a Comment

From McDonald’s Crew Member to Senior VP and General Counsel of Golden State Foods (a major McDonald’s supplier), John Page embodies ‘Leadership to Live By’


“John Page is a true leader in the legal profession. His accomplishments in the legal community are an inspiration to us all.”
– Jeryl Bowers, Partner, Sheppard Mullin

By Stephanie Harris

Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, John Page, Senior Vice President and General Counsel (GC) of Golden State Foods (GSF), has always been fascinated with the idea of order in society. “There is something about order and structure that I just love, and that is what history and law teaches us,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons that drew me to the legal profession.”

Page was the youngest of five children, raised by a single mother on government assistance in an impoverished neighborhood. As a child, his fortunate exposure to opportunities beyond his surroundings led him to pursue an undergraduate degree in Political Science from Pace University in Westchester, New York, and a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in Philadelphia.

“Poverty can be changed and overcome through education and exposure. If you don’t see it, you don’t know it exists, ‘it’ being a better way of life,” Page explained. “I had the great fortune to be raised by both my mom and others in the neighborhood, where I got to see more than my surroundings and circumstance, and that led me to want to achieve more as a kid living below the poverty line. That’s what helped me, and we need to steer the younger people to those opportunities today.”

Page’s first paying job was working as a crewmember at his neighborhood McDonald’s, which was difficult at times. “I was constantly being made fun of because of the job and the uniform back then,” he said. “But that first job provided me with a great foundation and work ethic, and here I am 30-plus years later, a Senior Vice President and General Counsel to a company that has been a primary supplier to McDonald’s since its start.”


Creating Structure

After law school, Page began his legal career in New York City as a transactional and commercial litigation attorney. He eventually transitioned to an in-house position—a move he saw as a natural progression.

“Corporations require and benefit from the knowledge, guidance, judgment, experience as well as the structure that lawyers bring in terms of their professional training and perspective,” he said. “So it wasn’t necessarily a choice [to move in house, so much] as it was a path. Corporations, in my view, have a more lasting impact on society than law firms. It was a place where I saw how you could actually contribute to society and support the legal needs of these corporations.”

Page joined GSF as a GC 10 years ago, and was drawn to the company because of its long and successful history in the food industry with great customers, employees and leadership, as well as its creed and values, which emphasized dignity toward others and the commitment to serve those in need through the GSF Foundation.

Page_John_sidebar1“We start with treating others as you want to be treated, and we treat all with dignity and respect. That is how we want to frame all our business plans, and we believe it allows us to continually improve and succeed.”

Entrenched in the business, GSF’s Legal Department supports the company by addressing its legal needs through alignment with big-picture goals and strategies.

“Before you employ your legal skill set at a company, it is paramount that you know the company and its strategic plan,” Page said. “How else can you help a client, even from a legal perspective, if you don’t know their business model or goals?”

Beyond understanding the business and contributing to its strategic plan, Page and his team provide “traditional counsel” on matters such as compliance, governance, labor and employment, commercial contracts, litigation, employee-related matters, and business acquisitions. And he does so through what he calls “leadership to live by,” or the “four Cs.”

“It’s about counseling and giving guidance,” Page advised, “but we try to use the four Cs: Be concise, understand the context of what you’re doing, have clarity as you go along because that’s how you deliver better advice, and have confidence.”

Confidence, according to Page, is extremely important, particularly for young lawyers. “Oftentimes, you are challenged early on in your career about how sure you are in your role as a lawyer and the advice you give. The first thing that can get shaken is your confidence,” he said, “but if you understand the business and context, as well as how to give clear and concise advice, your confidence should build up over time. And it builds up with knowledge—knowledge of the business and knowledge of your own discipline, meaning your skills as a lawyer.”

In addition to Page’s four Cs, he believes it is important to be proactive and engaged in the business as an in-house lawyer. “You cannot just wait for something to come to you,” he said. “You actually have to be a part of the business in that sense. It’s literally deciding that you can add value and are a part of the business and critical paths, even though you are, to some, a lawyer.”

According to Page, one must be knowledgeable as a legal professional, and the best judgment is that which is well informed. “That means you are engaged and ask the right questions, and you are there as close to the beginning as you can be, helping understand expectations and anticipating things that will not work out and the acceptable solutions.”

Good Doings

A large part of GSF’s values are built upon giving back to local communities and those in need, which is done through the GSF Foundation. Now in its eleventh year, the foundation supports more than 550 children’s charities and schools across the country, and is funded and run by GSF associate volunteers. More than 80 percent of GSF associates actively support the foundation through personal involvement and contributions.

As with community involvement, the company has embarked on significant sustainability efforts. “We want to have green days everyday, every month of the year, not just in April,” Page explained.

Toward this goal, GSF is building a new LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design]-certified facility near Chicago, three of its facilities are close to achieving zero waste—with one at 95 percent—and 10 of its distribution facilities have achieved ISO 14001 certification, which addresses sound environmental management.

From his humble beginnings in Brooklyn to his current role at GSF, as well as his community involvement through the GSF Foundation and various professional organizations—the National Bar Association and the Association of Corporate Counsel, for example—Page undoubtedly is fulfilling his career goal of making a positive impact on society as a corporate lawyer.


Stephanie Harris is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Illinois.

John's Key Partners:
Sheppard Mullin (M&A domestic and international) | K&L Gates (Global Legal Services) | Latham & Watkins (Corporate/Litigation Law)

Stephanie Harris

Stephanie Harris is a freelance writer based in Chicago, Illinois.

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