HarperCollins and Harlequin GC, Shari Hosaki, on modernizing processes in the legal department

Supporting her team from a mental health perspective is a priority for Hosaki

HarperCollins and Harlequin GC, Shari Hosaki, on modernizing processes in the legal department
Shari Hosaki

One silver-lining of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis has been the opportunity to modernize various processes within legal departments. That was certainly the case for Shari Hosaki, vice president, general counsel and secretary at HarperCollins Canada Ltd. and Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. The crisis motivated Hosaki and her team of three lawyers and five contract administrators to reassess and simplify some of their processes, such as adapting to digital signatures, instead of sending contracts around the world by courier.

“In publishing there was a perception that all copyright contracts had to have wet ink signatures, so everything was quite manual and it took a long time,” says Hosaki, who has been with the global publishing house for a little over two years. “We had to pivot pretty quickly to digital signatures and digital processes. We were working on those processes already, but this was a real catalyst to get things done quickly.” Throughout the crisis Hosaki’s team continued to manage risk and compliance matters, including navigating IP and copyright issues and administering author contracts, in addition to HR and operations work.

The pandemic naturally had a major impact on the way people consume books, as brick-and-mortar stores were forced to close, and many people were driven to online sources, so the legal team at HarperCollins and Harlequin also guided the business in adapting to meet the increased demand for e-books and audio books.

No stranger to working under pressure, Hosaki has previously worked at Cadbury – initially in Canada and later in the U.K., where she became general counsel of the Middle East and Africa, as well as Britain and Ireland. During her time in the U.K., the iconic British Cadbury brand underwent a hostile takeover from Kraft, which presented Hosaki with a host of new challenges.

“It was exciting from a legal perspective because we fought the takeover for a number of months, which a lot of people don’t get to do in their lifetime,” she says. She also helped to integrate the two teams after the takeover was complete, before returning to Canada as a legal operations consultant, and later shifting back to an in-house role as associate general counsel at Indigo before landing at HarperCollins and Harlequin.

Since joining the publishing company, Hosaki has been working to introduce a new model of business partnering which involves the legal team working hand-in-hand with the business by attending partner meetings and fully embedding themselves into the business.

“It was a different cultural way of working that takes a real mindset change,” says Hosaki. “They’ve embraced it beautifully and have really succeeded in executing on that, so that is something I’ve been particularly proud of. I think it’s important to get uncomfortable sometimes because that’s how you learn and grow.”

Supporting her team from a mental health perspective has been another priority for Hosaki throughout the pandemic crisis, as everyone adapted to a remote working environment, while also juggling home responsibilities.

“Leadership is a challenge in this type of environment because you really have to be thinking about the whole person and how they manage their lives and mental health,” she says. “It is difficult to lead remotely. That has been a real challenge for me personally, to figure out how to help people and support them from a remote perspective.”

In addition to ongoing monthly departmental meetings, Hosaki now hosts virtual meetings with her team every week to touch base and discuss issues that need to be escalated as well as to offer support and make sure everyone is coping with the workload – and coping emotionally.

“I think people just need to vent sometimes and a lot of people live alone. Sometimes I just start off by saying ‘how are you today?’” says Hosaki.

As the online world continues to grow, Hosaki’s goals for the year ahead include staying ahead of the game in terms of her understanding, and finding new ways to support the business in the new reality. Another major goal is to continue supporting her team through the winter months, particularly in view of lockdowns.

“It’s incumbent upon us as leaders to really figure out how to keep people engaged and happy and motivated, and to support them, not just professionally, but personally as well,” she says.

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