It’s a sprint to the finish for Hacker who has endurance attitude

In about 80 days, it will be go time for the Pan American Games in Toronto. For the last year, Karen Hacker has been quietly building her legal team in an environment most general counsel would find daunting.

Karen Hacker leads the legal team created for the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. (Photo: Jennifer Brown)Her portfolio includes responsibility for 24,000 volunteers who will assist the 7,500 athletes coming to Canada. With that comes a lot of contractual obligations. There’s also the pressure of public scrutiny and the fact anyone hired for the games is probably also constantly looking for their next job.

“Planning for volunteers involves planning for attrition. The trick is to keep everyone engaged in the process and take them from interested to committed,” she said Monday.

Hacker was the lunchtime keynote speaker at the annual Canadian Corporate Counsel Association’s national spring conference in Toronto.

Hacker joined the Toronto Organizing Committee for the 2015 Pan American and Parapan American Games in November 2010 and took on the dual role of senior vice president, human resources and volunteers, as well general counsel and corporate secretary. She is tasked with keeping her team engaged over a short, but intense, period of time.

The Pan Am Games will take place in and around Toronto and Hamilton from July 10 to 16. The Para Pan Games take place a month later, from Aug. 7 to 15.

Her legal team for the games includes five full-time lawyers — one focused on intellectual property, one on privacy issues, one for freedom of information requests, one who specializes in broadcast and ceremonies, and a generalist.

“The vast majority of work will be on contracts. There will be between 1,000 and 1,500 contracts signed by the end of the games,” she said.

She talked about the challenges of working as part of an organizing committee including the fact that as a publicly-funded event, there is no money for team-building or raises.

It’s a unique situation in that of the more than 800 employees now hired to work for the games, most will be let go as the organization is dissolved.

“I look to hire those who share my moral compass and work ethic,” said Hacker, adding leading a team in something like the Pam Am Games can be like “leading in a fish bowl” because the games are under intense public scrutiny.

“You need to protect your team from the politics above and around you. You need to resist the urge to share your grief,” she said. “You need to advocate for your people and be clear in your communication.”

Her past roles have included serving as general counsel at large organizations including Cineplex Odeon, Irwin Toy, and St. Joseph Communications. She talked about the challenges private practice lawyers face when they go in-house.

“Those of us who come in-house have to get used to the pyramid structure of the corporate world. That requires trust and letting go,” she said. “In law firms performance management is not a hallmark of management.”

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