Developing a Diverse Talent Pipeline at Newell Rubbermaid

Mark W. Johnson was recently promoted to the vice president of legal affairs, home solutions, government affairs and Latin America for Newell Rubbermaid. Johnson joined the company in 2009 as senior counsel for its home and family group, and has had increasing levels of responsibility in the legal department since that time. Previously, Johnson was a commercial litigator at Helms Mulliss & Wicker PLLC and handled a wide range of complex litigation in financial services, products liability and public education while in private practice.

Johnson recently spoke with Diversity Executive. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

As your company moves into global growth, what aspects of your background and skills make you fit for the position you’ve been promoted to?

One of the reasons my new role is a welcome challenge and the opportunity is so exciting is because the scope of my work and potential issues are so broad. I have the opportunity to advise business partners as we collectively work to make them really matter in the marketplace and to consumers worldwide. My experiences advising large, multinational corporations have forced me to develop and hone very good problem-solving skills. I want to strategically apply sensible legal strategies to potential issues facing the company so that we can achieve our business goals. Particularly, in my new role, that means advising on new regulations, different business standards and a variety of cultural differences our brands will see as they enter emerging markets like Latin America.

Can you describe BEACON and how it has impacted your career?

BEACON – Black Employees Achieving, Connecting & Operating in Newell — is an employee resource group that is designed to create an environment where its members can collectively contribute to the success of Newell Rubbermaid while developing their professional skills. Newell values diverse thought and perspective, and recognizes the critical role it plays in business development. BEACON is among six employee resource groups helping to strengthen inclusion and diversity but also ensure we have a talent base rich in cultural and global perspective.

BEACON has been a wonderful opportunity for me to network with my colleagues and continue to work on leadership skills in a constructive environment. I have developed meaningful relationships internally and with members of other employee resource groups in companies throughout greater Atlanta, where Newell Rubbermaid’s global headquarters is located.

What advice would you give to individuals considering initiating a similar group in their own company?

Identify and organize your objectives, then communicate your plan to your company’s leadership. Buy-in at every level of an organization is important, and top-down sponsorship is key in implementing the exceptional programming, networking and relationship building opportunities these groups create. Reach out to members of employee resource groups throughout your company’s peer group for advice and collaboration. You have to get organized and have vision before you can take action.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced at your company and how did you overcome them?

Multinational companies have had to navigate through a difficult economic environment in the developed world over the last several years, and Newell Rubbermaid is no different. We’re implementing a growth agenda and bringing a new operating model to life. For my colleagues and I, it’s been an opportunity to define how legal supports our business and strategy. It’s important to communicate and prove to your colleagues and superiors that you are committed to working hard and facing challenges head-on. You have to constantly seek new challenges and look for opportunities to grow.

Before joining Newell, what did you learn about leadership development at your previous positions?

Leadership is truly composed of a combination of skills that need to be developed in a manner that is consistent with your individual strengths, personality traits and values. Leadership is not the same for everyone, so you must encourage others to develop their own unique set of skills.  Great leaders find ways to facilitate and inspire others to develop their own individual leadership styles.

How do you ensure that you are always moving forward in developing your leadership skills?

I think good leaders are constantly developing leadership skills, so I constantly look for new learning opportunities. I believe you have to venture outside of your comfort zone if you want to truly grow. You need to surround yourself with friends and colleagues that are supportive and will encourage you to keep striving to reach your goals.

Mary Camille Izlar is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. She can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.