Strategic move: NetApp’s top legal eagle becomes Chief Strategy Officer

In a seemingly unusual move, NetApp has appointed Matt Fawcett, its now ex-General Counsel, as Chief Strategy Officer.

Matt Fawcett

Fawcett has been NetApp’s top internal lawyer for 10 years, being appointed as General Counsel in September 2010. He was promoted to Chief Strategy and Legal Officer in January 2020. Now, NetApp’s announcement says, it “is decoupling its strategy and legal teams, enabling Fawcett to have a dedicated focus on accelerating the next phase of NetApp’s evolution as Chief Strategy Officer.”

An announcement quote by Fawcett said: “I’m laser focused on accelerating NetApp’s strategy to extend our market leadership as we continue transforming our business in today’s digital economy, building on the success we’ve already achieved.”

Elizabeth O’Callahan, who was an SVP and General Counsel reporting to Fawcett, becomes NetApp’s Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel. That is impressive but Fawcett’s move is unexpected. Corporate lawyers are a vital force in a firm, managing risk for their companies, looking after contracts, ensuring compliance and managing other legal bureaucratic activities. Doing this well, controlling costs and working effectively with other parts of the company are clearly important but don’t generally lead to corporate strategy roles in a technology company.

CEO George Kurian issued a statement too: “Recognising we have many opportunities before us to grow and win in the marketplace, I’m proud to have two strong leaders in Matt Fawcett leading strategy and corporate development, and Beth O’Callahan taking on an expanded role as Chief Legal Officer reporting to me.”

NetApp’s leadership webpage says Fawcett will lead “Corporate Strategy, Corporate Development, and Government Relations. He and his organisation are routinely recognised for leadership at the intersection of innovation, technology, and law.”

A look at some of Fawcett’s articles and blogs is revealing. In Reflections on a Decade at in-house counsel outlet ACC Docket, Fawcett writes: “In 2010, we declared a war on paper. At that time, we had to fight our own team to adopt electronic signatures (which seems so quaint today). It was hard to get going, but it proved a huge positive in our speed and efficiency. And of course, just a few years later, this is a basic tool for every team. I am glad we didn’t wait.

“A few years later, we were early movers again, embracing the vision of a smaller and more nimble team. This was both a response to challenges in our business, but also a calculated bet that a tight, disciplined team connected through technology and efficient processes could ultimately be more productive. Looking backwards, and watching our team effectively manage through today’s WFH paradigm, that was a winning bet.”

In a 2013 Forbes article “How Your General Counsel Sees Business Blind Spots” he wrote: “The role of the General Counsel (GC) is undergoing profound expansion. They’re no longer just, ‘the top lawyer in the company’ … The effective GC identifies issues that are invisible to other parts of the organisation. In volatile, highly inter-dependent businesses, these ‘blind spots’ represent zones of opportunity or unmitigated risks.  To see through the blind spots, you need an effective combination of functions. … GCs are business catalysts, identifying opportunities, capturing them, and creating competitive advantage. Forward-looking leaders of tomorrow’s business won’t overlook this vital resource. The GC’s influence can be felt in virtually every area of an organisation.”

Fawcett YouTube video