Bjarne Tellmann, GSK Consumer Healthcare

Bjarne Tellmann talks about leading the charge in legal department transformation during his time as GC at Pearson PLC along with lessons learned. He walks us through the framework of how to look at change: Hardware, Software, and Constants. Bjarne puts emphasis on digital transformation, explaining that data driven insights are where the true value lies. He also recognizes the human aspect of the journey. As the environment around starts to shift, what behaviors and thinking will be moved forward, and what should be left behind? Bjarne reminds us that the only constant in a major transformation such as this one, is change.


Bjarne Tellmann: Nine Questions

The best thing a GC can do for a client (company executive/manager) is:

“Crystalize legal’s brand proposition and deliver value that is both legal and non-legal in nature.”

One big change in the corporate legal sector by 2025 will be:

“Digital transformation tied to process optimization. There will be many different flavors, but that will be a big theme.”

The hardest thing I’ve ever done professionally was:

“Pearson’s legal department transformation. Particularly the human change aspect – understanding that you have to talk about the why, to bring people along on the journey. And at the end of the day it’s about emotions, not logic.”

I love it when law firm lawyers:

“Ask questions about my business.”

I really dislike it when law firm lawyers:

“Think the element they’re involved in is the only element I am involved in. When lawyers are unable to see the holistic nature of the problem they are trying to solve.”

Three little things I love about my team’s culture:

“We prioritize innovation, we have each other’s backs, and we do the right thing.”

One little thing I should really change about the way I work:

Arrive on time. ????”

One sentence of advice for my 25-year-old self:

“Best thing about advice: You don’t have to take it.”

Thing in life I’m most proud of:

“My two girls.”


Bjarne Tellmann: In His Own Words

We sat down with Bjarne Tellmann to talk about some of the change initiatives he has led in his years as GC of Pearson PLC, and in his new role as GC of GSK Consumer Products. We also asked how he had time to write an authoritative, 358-page book (Building an Outstanding Legal Team) in the middle of it all.

Here is Bjarne in his own words.

On “Why Change?”

We ran a huge transformation of the legal function at Pearson. So – why do it? The original “why” was strategic and operational. The business model of the company was changing, and legal was the last business unit that had not yet transformed itself to the new environment.

The “why” later became financial. The industry was going through disruption and change – our budget got put under pressure and we were asked to do more with less resources. We needed to find ways to automate what was more routine. This forced us to be more creative and imaginative. Throughout our transformation, the “why” evolved as our understanding of the value proposition changed.

Transformation in Three Parts

There were really three elements of the big change – what I call “hardware,” then “software,” and then the constant factors that run across the whole experience.

Hardware includes the tangible, measurable aspects of the legal department. At Pearson, we first looked at our budget and mapped the internal to external spend ratio. The goal was to lower our total costs. After identifying core risks through a step-by-step process, we reconfigured the structure around the risks. In the end, we were able to bring down fixed costs by 45%. Hardware also included our relationship with internal and external partners. This meant looking at panelizing core areas of work, renegotiating fees, and getting the right partners focused on the right work.

Finally, we wrapped technology around processes. From a contract management center to a transactions support center – the focus was on data driven platforms that can generate insights.

Software refers to the less tangible aspects of the legal department. We looked at the culture of our company as a whole and our legal department in a bottom-up approach. We asked ourselves – What drives behavior in the legal department? After the identifying comes the analyzing – What aspects of behavior do we want to reinforce, which do we want to eliminate, and how?

Constants refers to strategy and, most importantly, change management. We wanted to put in place a course strategy while keeping in mind being preventative and pragmatic. This prompts the question, what do we do that is unique?

On Digital Transformation

Sitting here now and looking back, I realize there are three stages to digital transformation.

1) There are tools and technologies that allow you to be more efficient. This is basic – cutting costs and doing more with less.

2) Optimizing processes and changing how we work. This refers to the whole reconfiguration of how we deliver services. The key to doing this is making a cohesive strategic plan.

3) Then there’s data-driven insights, but you only get there after you’ve got #2 in place. When you do change the way you work and have a strategy, you begin to harvest data from the technology, and when it’s lined up with strategy, that data is really valuable to the business. And those insights are the true value. The thing that keeps on giving forever.

On Creating Value after the Transformation

There is value in freeing up your team to give back to the company, which adds value to the business. Before you were just reacting. A helpful military analogy is when you get to the transformation, you move from regiments and tank divisions waiting for things to happen to a special ops posture. You’ve got a smaller group of skilled, self-driven people that have support from the base when they need it, but they are seeing opportunities and making decisions in a data-driven way.

On Easy Stuff, Hard Stuff, and Best Stuff

I would say the easiest part of the transformation was E-billing. We used Serengeti and almost overnight had 10% savings in cost.

The hardest part of the process was managing people through the change. Something unexpected though was the virtuous cycle of the transformation. The way to think about it is as an evolutionary process, rather than a revolution.

The best benefit of this entire journey was the analytics and insights gained from that. That’s a catalyst for innovation, which is the lifeblood of an organization.