Jeff Davis of Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan on trends facing legal departments in 2023

Davis shares words of wisdom on leading a strong line-up

Jeff Davis of Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan on trends facing legal departments in 2023
Jeff Davis, chief legal officer and corporate affairs officer at the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan

Canadian Lawyer spoke with Jeff Davis, chief legal officer and corporate affairs officer at the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, one of the judges in the upcoming 2023 Canadian Law Awards.

What are your key responsibilities in your role?

I oversee the board governance, the legal compliance, and government public affairs functions at Teachers, as well as crisis management for the organization. More specifically, I think that my key responsibility as the chief legal officer is really to support the organization as a catalyst to the enterprise strategic goals, while providing critical guidance to protect the reputation across our increasingly global and complex operations.

What legal matters and trends are top of mind for you heading into 2023?

There's a lot I could say here, so I'm going to put it into three big buckets:

  1. Regulator oversight and private enforcement trends: Regulators across the world are stepping up their involvement across a variety of industries, and this is true in the pension space in Ontario. One particular interest is how ESG has become a focal point of growth for many regulators. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, but it's definitely top of mind. Another trend in that space is on the private enforcement side, in the climate and social justice space.

  2.  Global regulatory change: I think it's true to say that regulatory change has been accelerating across the globe ever since I joined Teachers, so that's not new, but the trends we've seen in the past 12-to-24 months have fundamentally changed the complexity of that change. There was a time we used to use the word ‘globalization’ a lot and we saw a move to having regulation becoming more coordinated across countries, but I think we're now seeing a de-hyperglobalisation which creates complexity for global investors as things are getting less coordinated between countries. The same can be said for privacy laws. These changes make it important to ensure you're mindful of how those regulatory environments are changing and advocate for your organization where possible.

  3. Global M&A trends. M&A is critical to how we deliver our pension promise to our members. The tsunami of deal activity that dominated the first two years of the pandemic has slowed down, but it doesn't mean we're at a standstill. It just means we need to adapt to the different capital markets environment and the different lending environment. Because M&A plays such a critical role in paying pensions, it's critical to stay at the heart of these trends and how they're changing.

What's your strategy for leading a strong team and supporting team members in their personal career goals?

I don't think that there's any one way to be a leader. Leadership style needs to be adaptable to the environment, to the goals of the organization, and to the needs of the people that you're leading. It’s about creating an environment where people speak up, challenge the leader, and aren't afraid to make mistakes. A second piece of that would be creating a strong sense of belonging, so inclusion is key. Third, when team members show vulnerability to one another by asking each other for help, that creates a learning environment, and one where strong bonds of trust are developed. Another aspect of that is challenging our own thinking. You need to be adaptable to the changing environment and embrace the idea that there's always a better way because that creates a learning mindset. Mindfulness is also key. Be aware of your actions as the leader and think about what you're communicating. Are you being authentic? Finally, it is important to have a strong sense of purpose, so have a vision of what you're trying to achieve from a macro level.

What's your approach for working with other departments to ensure that legal is really supporting the entire organization?

When working with clients, the relationship is paramount. No matter how smart you are, it’s a healthy relationship that will define the influence and impact you can have within your organization. It's important to work on enhancing trust and connection with other departments to show them you know what you're talking about because once you've developed a network of high trust relationships, you have impact, especially in the most critical situations.

What has been your career highlight so far?

My career highlight is made of a series of small-to-not-so-small events or interactions that I see or witness. When I see someone on my team showing courage – the kind of courage that required them to be vulnerable – or when I receive a note from a colleague from another department tying something they did to something I've talked publicly about, those things are the career highlights for me. I'm in a fortunate position to have a platform, so I've used that to try to shape the workplace, and to create a better workplace than the one I grew up in. When I see someone acting in a way that shows me that things are changing, that warms my heart more than any award ever will.

What are your key goals for this year?

Last year I created a new corporate affairs strategy to align what we do in corporate affairs to our enterprise strategy. Implementing that strategy, watching it unfold and seeing it come to life will be a key goal for 2023.

*Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

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