Advantage in Diversity

Acklands-Grainger’s VP and general counsel, Kevin Derbyshire, underscores the importance of diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace

“Maintaining a diverse employee base isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s a powerful business advantage.” —Kevin Derbyshire, VP & General Counsel
“Maintaining a diverse employee base isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s a powerful business advantage.” —Kevin Derbyshire, VP & General Counsel

From a private practice to a VP and general counsel position at Acklands-Grainger, Canada’s largest distributor of industrial, safety, and fastener products, Kevin Derbyshire has had an accomplished career, and he wants others to get their fair shot, too. As a testament to his commitment to diversity and inclusiveness in the legal profession, he and two other general counsel cofounded Legal Leaders for Diversity (LLD) in 2011. The organization consists of like-minded general counsel at 60 of Canada’s top companies, and here Derbyshire explains how he earned the prominence to help start it and how it’s changing the legal landscape.

Advantage: You’re seen as a champion of diversity in the workplace. That’s fitting because you’ve had such a diversified career. How did you get here?
Kevin Derbyshire: I began practicing law at a large, international Bay Street law firm in Toronto, focused primarily on M&A and corporate/commercial [work]. Concluding deals in private practice gave me great insight into the corporate decision-making process. Working on large international deals also made it clear to me that teams deployed to complete these deals with broader, diverse backgrounds would result in a better result for the client.

In 2000, I received a great offer to join Bell Canada Enterprises and was responsible for providing legal support for the company’s procurement function. I was promoted to assistant general counsel within 18 months and ultimately became general counsel of Bell ExpressVu [now Bell TV] in 2002, reporting to Bell’s former chief legal officer, who had been promoted to CEO of Bell ExpressVu. The CEO had restructured the legal department and asked that I rebuild that function at the company.

How did you become involved with the Virgin Group?
Branson’s Virgin Group and Bell created a joint venture to launch Virgin Mobile Canada, a new cell phone company in Canada. I was recruited for the VP and general counsel position and joined the founding executive team five months before the launch of the company in early 2005.

It was a rocket. When I joined, a few months before we were to launch the company, Virgin Mobile had no legal department at all, so I immediately began implementing the legal, regulatory, and corporate-governance frameworks. We worked around the clock.

Career Milestones

1991
Enters private practice with Fasken Martineau

1995
Becomes the first Canadian lawyer at FedEx Canada

1999
Earns the FedEx International Five Star Award for Excellence

2002
Is promoted to general counsel of Bell ExpressVu (now Bell TV)

2004
Joins as a founding executive of start-up Virgin Mobile Canada

2007
Wins the Canadian General Counsel Award for Mid Market Excellence from the National Post and ZSA Legal Recruitment

2010
Comes back as a finalist for the Canadian General Counsel Award for Business Achievement from the National Post and ZSA Legal Recruitment

2011
Cofounds the Legal Leaders for Diversity organization

2012
Joins Acklands-Grainger as vice president and general counsel

And from there?
After Virgin and the successful buyout, I decided to join DuPont Canada as chief administrative officer and general counsel because of the breadth of the responsibility: legal, government affairs, and public relations.

I joined Acklands-Grainger in 2012 as vice president and general counsel and am responsible for managing the company’s legal affairs as well as serving as a senior business partner in the management of the company. It’s my pleasure to lead an incredibly talented and dedicated legal team that provides legal support for all aspects of the business, including commercial contracts, product liability, litigation, insurance coverage, employment, real estate, and mergers and acquisitions.

How did you become a founding member of Legal Leaders for Diversity?
The idea for Legal Leaders for Diversity came from the general counsels at the Royal Bank of Canada, Deloitte & Touche, and me. We recognized in our positions of influence that we could make a positive change and be held accountable for our convictions to advance diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace. We believe that a company’s decision-making process is superior, the consequent decisions more robust, and the retention of top talent far more sustainable if diversity and inclusiveness are integral parts of the company.

Aren’t there already rules and standards for that?
There are certainly legislative requirements, but beyond that we seek to be far more proactive. About half of Canada’s general counsel consider diversity policies when retaining external firms. And when law firms know that diversity is important to their clients, it draws them in and creates a bigger platform for change.

Have you been successful?
Well, we started the group two years ago with three members. Today, there are over 60 general counsel at top companies across Canada that have committed to the goals of Legal Leaders for Diversity. This group of companies represents the largest and most influential companies across Canada, spanning a diversity in companies and geographies that represents the Canadian landscape. In my view, yes, we’ve been successful, but there’s so much more work to do.

What do you say to those considering committing to Legal Leaders for Diversity’s goals?
Maintaining a diverse employee base, one that reflects all aspects of a community, isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s a powerful business advantage. Companies that advance and adopt diversity and inclusiveness polices will be that much more responsive, resilient, and successful in meeting the complex challenges that lie ahead in a competitive global environment.