Amanda Rusin

Amanda Rusin: Moving At The Speed Of Business

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In January 2018, Regis Corporation welcomed attorney Amanda Rusin as senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary. A global leader in beauty salons and cosmetology education, Regis is headquartered in Minneapolis and owns, operates or franchises thousands of salons worldwide. Rusin’s energetic, cross-functional approach to lawyering keeps her company sleek, nimble and moving at the speed of business.

Rusin’s high-octane career began with her early passion for the mechanics of business, which prompted her to obtain her MBA from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Business and real-time experience as a financial analyst before going on to complete her law degree, also at the University of Minnesota. “I started in finance because if I wanted to be a true business lawyer, I knew I needed to be able to walk the walk and talk the talk,” Rusin says. “I wanted to understand things like balance sheets, profit and loss reports, risk forecasting, and sales and marketing strategies. Without ‘getting my hands dirty,’ I wasn’t going to be able to truly see things from a business perspective. I wanted to be able to provide clients with realistic business solutions instead of simply telling them what the law said.”

Rusin first practiced law at Briggs and Morgan P.A., where she handled mergers and acquisitions and franchise matters and acquired a context from which to effectively advise the corporate entities she would later represent as in-house counsel. “It was helpful to start my legal career at a firm. It was an incredible training ground in terms of the breadth and depth of the law and the mentorship I received. From my perspective now as a client, it helps me to be cost-effective for my company as I can be very clear about what I want, and I have a good understanding of what resources certain projects will require. I can be surgical about getting the expertise I need and direct how I want certain tasks staffed.”

Rusin left private practice to work in-house for Cargill, Incorporated. After four successful years serving in a generalist corporate counsel capacity, Rusin was asked if she would consider stepping away from the legal department and taking over a small business unit. “Her answer was yes. “I led a team of individuals with diverse skillsets and worked cross-functionally for about a year. It was a great experience but, in the end, I realized I missed being a lawyer.”

Her next stop was Polaris Industries Inc., which was bringing its mergers and acquisitions work in-house. “It’s an area of law where you have to know your business inside and out,” Rusin explains. “You have to understand everything that’s flowing through the P&L, along with inventory management, suppliers, risks, product liability, insurance claims and employer relationships. In the time I was there, we were able to reduce our M&A transaction fees by 50 percent.”

That experience paved the way to Rusin’s current posting at Regis, where CEO Hugh Sawyer asked her to “flex her MBA muscles,” a function that Rusin says is unusual for a general counsel. “The procurement function here reports to me, and I’ve been taking a deep dive into critical vendor relationships and doing the due diligence to ensure that we have the appropriate risk controls in place, financially stable suppliers, quality metrics and competitive pricing.”

Intent upon being a good business partner to the executives she advises, Rusin takes a proactive stance inside her company. “I’ve moved my one-on-one meetings with departments to a team discussion. These types of cross-functional meetings allow everyone to collaborate in an efficient manner. When somebody raises an issue they’re working on, it often flags something somebody else is working on, so we can share ideas and eliminate redundancies. I don’t want the law department to be seen as a red tape, silo-ed function. I want my attorneys to be involved at the beginning. Ninety-nine percent of the time, we can head off a legal issue early or come up with creative solutions. That way, the lawyers aren’t the ones who are always raising red flags at the eleventh hour.”

Being a strong partner also means giving executives information they can use, rather than an esoteric legal analysis with no clear direction. “This is part of what makes my job fun. I have a lot of tools at my fingertips. For example, if there is a breach of an agreement, the traditional legal option is to sue and get monetary compensation. But is that really what you want? Instead, you may be able to leverage the situation to get additional commercial terms that aren’t in the current deal structure. Or, it may mean thinking through whether or not it makes sense to litigate a claim from a financial, reputational and/or operational perspective.”

Rusin has learned to be comfortable with a certain amount of risk. She continues, “There’s always a risk profile, and my job is to weigh probability with monetary and reputational impact. My motto is that I want to ‘run at the speed of business.’ It can be hard as a lawyer, when we’re trained to ferret out every risk. But if a CEO needs an answer to make a decision that day, he or she doesn’t have time for me to spend two weeks researching. I have to do a gut check, rely on my and my team’s experience, consult with a specialist if I need to, and make a recommendation. You have to accept a component of unknown risk to move at the speed of business.”

When she does seek the advice of outside counsel, Rusin says there are two important things she wants from her specialists: their understanding of her business, and clear answers. “It’s not helpful if they’re bringing up risks that aren’t applicable to my industry or business. I like to work with someone who either knows my business or has taken the time to self-educate. It’s also important for me to get answers. I go to outside counsel because I need a yes or no response. The law is often very gray. If it isn’t clear, then I want a directed application with associated risks based on their past experience. Here are the risks along with the probability and monetary implications of those risks. Simply an overview of where the law and the courts are is not always helpful to me.”

From the earliest days of her career, Rusin has been entrusted with big responsibilities, and with them, big opportunities. As a leader, she is conscientious about paying it forward. “I think as a young lawyer you have to be your own best advocate. Keep a success list of what you’ve accomplished in the last year so you can present it when it comes to review time. I was fortunate that Rob Sheffer at Cargill and Stacy Bogart at Polaris were both phenomenal mentors and they were always good about coaching me through new challenges. They helped me to identify and develop missing skillsets, pushed me to take on leadership roles and gave me opportunities to expand my knowledge base. If I made a mistake, they’d give me direction about how to fix it and how to learn from it. I try to push my team here to expand beyond their traditional roles. If they don’t want to be pushed, that’s okay. But they’re given the room to run if they want to take it.”

After traipsing through feed mills in a hardhat and steel-toed boots at Cargill, and learning to both ride and tear down motorcycles at Polaris, Rusin is enjoying the opportunity to delve into another dynamic business sector at Regis. “The more I learn about the company and industry, the more I realize this is a pretty incredible opportunity. The salon industry is one of the few where there is still a personal touch through interactions with people who are getting their hair done. This service affects how people look at you and how you feel about yourself, and how you present yourself to the world. From a business perspective, I love that we’re a great mix of franchised versus corporate-owned salons. We’re a big supporter of local business, and we employ 30,000-plus stylists, a significant number of them being women and single moms. We are partnering with them as they do something they love while also creating an environment where they can establish their own business within our salons.”

From agriculture, to powersports, to beauty, Rusin has proven her talent for propelling business forward. “There is a great ex pression that I’ve always tried to live up to – to have a ‘high say-do ratio.’ Do what you say you’ll do and deliver results. I’ve learned that having a high say-do ratio and moving at the speed of business will lead you to success.” I’ll never claim to be the smartest person in the room, but I get to work with individuals with the highest expertise. Being general counsel continues to be a fun way to combine my love of the law and business.”

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