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John McLean is general counsel and chief legal officer of Vistra, a corporate business service provider that operates in more than 50 markets globally. Having started his career with law firms such as Stikeman Elliott and Norton Rose Fulbright, McLean moved in-house with Xinhua Finance in 2004, and then on to Darby Overseas Investments - the PE division of investment company Franklin Templeton – in 2011.

In his current role, which he commenced in 2017, McLean leads Vistra’s legal, risk and compliance function. His official bio states he “believes in taking a disciplined approach to operating the business to the highest standards, through great people.”

 

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ALB: Tell us a little about your role.

McLean: I'm responsible for the company's legal and compliance function which is currently over 100 experts based in markets across the world. It's important to me to be a good role model for my team and other more junior colleagues. I've been fortunate to work with great leaders in my career and recognise the importance of this for individuals and the business as a whole.

ALB: How would you describe your strategy for the legal team?

McLean: The Vistra legal team strategy is a direct reflection of our company's aspiration — we drive progress by removing the friction that comes from the complexity of global business.

Everybody on the team is an expert in their profession, an expert in our business and works shoulder-to-shoulder with the business as expert extensions to the team. Together we help the business overcome barriers and operate more effectively, in line with our risk appetite.

ALB: How important is the company's culture, according to you? What kind of internal culture are you looking to foster both within the team, as well as your business as a whole?

McLean: Company culture is hugely important. The culture of any business is set at the top and people will take their lead from how they see those act around them. This is something I take very seriously in my role, as do my Executive Leadership Team colleagues. Vistra is focused on being a smart and healthy business - smart businesses know who they are, where they're heading and how they'll get there. Being smart is important, but it isn't enough. Healthy businesses look after people, communicate well, minimise politics and build trust. And that's what I try to emulate every day.

We recently combined two successful companies and took this as an opportunity to reimagine what matters to us as a new integrated and evolved organisation. Culture is at the centre of our new brand identity and the three values that underpin our culture were crafted in consultation with our 9,000+ colleagues across the world. I've never seen a cocreating exercise of this scale and was thrilled to take part. The result - us not me, low ego/high ambition, and push for better — fully align with our legal team culture which is collegiate, solutions-oriented, and underpinned by a strong resolve to support the business while upholding a strong culture of compliance and integrity.

ALB: On that note, how would you describe your hiring and talent retention strategy? What kinds of lawyers would make the best fit for your team?

McLean: We're a destination for people at the top of their professional game and for the right individual, our dynamic environment is what makes the Vistra experience so rewarding. Every day we spark change, drive growth and help our global business build something new.

Vistra is an employer of choice for our people and talent. Our goal is to optimise business operations by removing friction and it's our people who make this a reality for our business and clients — our team's empowered to get things done and we're constantly developing as legal professionals.

A lot of CVs cross my desk and what I look for is somebody who pushes for better, who wants to grow and wants to develop into new areas. My team have been here for some time and it's a great source of satisfaction to lead them and see them thrive and develop in their careers.

ALB: When it comes to cooperating with external lawyers, what qualities or capabilities do you believe are the most critical to not only the work itself but also a sustainable long-term cooperating relationship?

McLean: It all comes down to relationships and the way people work. They become an extension of the team and we work hand-in-hand in a relationship built on trust. At Vistra, one of our brand promises is to stand as our clients' closest ally, so we're by their side wherever and whenever they need. We approach working with external lawyers, or anyone for that matter, in exactly the same way.

I'd say particular qualities that are most critical are lawyers who deliver flexibility and attention to detail, given the dynamic nature of our business. Also, someone who understands our business thoroughly helps reassure us at every step along the way. That deep understanding tends to result in more work for the lawyer as they're in a good position to help us solve other problems as and when they come up. So it really is all about a close partnership built on trust which results in a mutually beneficial and long lasting relationship.

ALB: What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

McLean: A piece of advice I received as a junior associate from a partner when I was working in New York, and it was simply — be not only responsive, but proactive and follow-up. It's not enough to say, "l sent the email and I haven't heard back." Pick up the phone, follow up, and get it done.

ALB: What excites you outside of work and what motto do you live by?

McLean: I love spending time with my wife and children, especially on the slopes as we all enjoy skiing. But my major hobby is playing guitar in a band, which I do with some mates and have done for a number of years. If you ask anyone at Vistra, I've even been known to play for special work events or for our annual holiday greetings for colleagues across the world! Music is my passion.

Life is short and I want to savour it, so I live by the motto is "enjoy every sandwich," said by the late great musician Warren Zevon to David Letterman when asked what he had learned about his life.

 

 

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