In House

Newell Rubbermaid's Double-Duty GC

John Stipancich oversees the consumer product giant's European region as part of its push to become leaner, more efficient

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John Stipancich
John Stipancich

Newell Rubbermaid general counsel John Stipancich is one of a growing number of GCs of Fortune 500 companies to expand his role into business operations at a time when multinationals are under pressure to cut costs while boosting growth in the face of sluggish consumer demand.

Stipancich added oversight of the consumer products giant's Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) operations to his GC duties in 2012 as part of a major reorganization, dubbed the Growth Game Plan, which CEO Michael Polk said is to "unlock our trapped capacity for growth."

Stipancich, 45, said his experience working for private equity company Kohlberg Kravis Roberts plus the numerous legal issues arising from Newell Rubbermaid's transformation in European markets were why the company put its top lawyer in an operational role.

"I'd worked for two KKR companies so I can get the costs out and run the region like a private equity company would," he said.

Before joining Newell Rubbermaid's legal department in 2004, Stipancich was in-house counsel for two Ohio-based consumer products companies in private equity giant KKR's portfolio: baby products-maker Evenflo and Borden Inc., once the largest U.S. producer of dairy and pasta products, which KKR shut down in 2001.

Legal issues for the EMEA region include the myriad of regulations governing the various European markets, workforce downsizing and intellectual property considerations to protect the company's brands, Stipancich said.

Stipancich became Newell Rubbermaid's general counsel in 2010. Initially he was in charge of legal affairs for Newell Rubbermaid's tools, hardware and commercial products group, plus the Rubbermaid and décor global business units.

He started his legal career at the Cleveland office of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, after earning a bachelor's degree in accounting from the University of Toledo and a law degree from Ohio State University.

Stipancich's expanded role is part of an effort to streamline the global consumer goods conglomerate that Newell Rubbermaid became after Newell Co.'s 1999 merger with Rubbermaid and Graco. The $5.8 billion deal nearly doubled the company's size, but stock value dropped and revenue growth stalled after the merger as the two companies tried to integrate their sprawling operations. A string of acquisitions of well-known consumer brands ensued through the mid-2000s, including the Paper Mate, Waterman and Parker pen companies, American Tool Cos., American Saw and Manufacturing Co. and Aprica.

Streamlining operations

Newell Rubbermaid established global headquarters in Atlanta in 2003 to consolidate its numerous brands and operations, which are in five categories: home solutions, writing, tools, commercial products, and baby and parenting.

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