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3M Legal Chief Keeps 5 Things in Mind Amid Coronavirus Crisis

March 25, 2020, 9:31 AM

3M General Counsel Ivan Fong knows a thing or two about disaster response as the former top lawyer at the Department of Homeland Security.

At the moment, 3M is racing to ship more than a half-million coveted N95 respirators to health care workers in New York and Seattle while working with Ford Motor Co. and General Electric Co. to manufacture ventilators and other medical equipment.

Fong told Bloomberg Law by email Tuesday he can’t discuss the particulars of that collaboration between industrial giants and the medical manufacturing conglomerate where he’s worked as senior vice president, general counsel, and company secretary since 2012.

He did discuss a day-to-day routine that involves working from a desk at home well-stocked with peanut M&Ms, milk chocolate mini-pretzels, and kettle chips.

Fong also shared some thoughts about how his fellow law department leaders can weather what he called a “surreal and scary” crisis. The bullet points below have been edited for style and clarity.

  • Setting priorities: For us it’s protecting our people and those affected by this global pandemic, particularly our front-line health care professionals. That means doing all we can to ramp up production and rapidly increase capacity for critical supplies needed to help protect their lives as they treat others.
  • Business continuity: For us that means working closely with our business and operations clients on removing barriers to production, such as export controls and other trade restrictions imposed by various governments, as well as our human resources team on pay/leave/work-from-home policies. There’s also leadership/succession planning and ongoing communications to employees, responding to questions such as, “When will this all end?”
  • Corporate governance: Work with your CEO to keep your board informed of what the company is doing and plan for virtual board and committee meetings. Expect to hold a virtual-only annual shareholder meeting and make sure the board has what it needs to fulfill its oversight and governance responsibilities.
  • Over-communicate: With so much incoming information that changes by the day, if not the hour, it’s hard to keep up. But don’t forget that your peers and your legal department are looking to you for leadership. And that means communicating regularly with candor, empathy, and hope.
  • Stay fit, relaxed, rested: Exercise, even if it’s only a six-minute workout in your living room. Balance the need to stay informed with the need to take mental breaks. Call or video chat with a friend or isolated neighbor. Do virtual dinner parties, practice distant socializing, and find ways to volunteer to help those more vulnerable among us. Use your newfound solitude time to read and reflect.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com

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