Atul Dubey, newly appointed Senior Vice President and General Manager of Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory, US, joined CCBJ for a discussion about his new role, his vision for the continued growth of the company along with insights about customer-focused innovation.
CCBJ: Can you share a bit about your background with our readers?
Atul Dubey: I was born in India, where I grew up and trained as an engineer before moving to the U.S. I’m a mechanical engineer by training. Coincidentally, my last two predecessors who led Wolters Kluwer’s Legal and Regulatory U.S. business were also engineers. I came to the US to earn my MBA from Carnegie Mellon. I then worked in a pharma company for a couple of years, and then spent a decade at Booz Allen doing strategic consulting for global clients, specializing in healthcare and financial services. I worked at Citigroup for nine years in their asset servicing business – through the global financial crisis. After that, I joined Standard & Poor’s Ratings business as the global Head of Transformation in the aftermath of the crisis. My next position as Wolters Kluwer’s global head of strategy was to help our Executive Board in driving our transformation to an expert solution (software) company, which included M&A, Innovation, external web portal transformation, GTM and growth strategies. I held the Chief Strategy Officer position until I was appointed to my current role. So that’s my CV in a nutshell.
What initially drew you to Wolters Kluwer and what’s kept you there?
After my time at S&P, I was contemplating what to do next. I almost decided to go back to banking but, through my network, I was approached about the opportunity at Wolters Kluwer. That led to a meeting with Nancy McKinstry, our CEO, who is quite charismatic and has transformed the company significantly. She said that Wolters Kluwer had become a digital company, and next she wanted for it to become an expert solutions company. That aspect of the company’s transformation intrigued me. I’d worked across tech, fintech and advanced technologies before coming here, and I was eager to apply my knowledge and skills to the company’s next evolution and is visible in our trajectory over the last decade.
My style combines strategic thinking with transformative execution, so I thought it’d be a good fit—and it has turned out well. We are changing the company to better position it as a provider of very specialized solutions that supply expert guidance to the experts. That’s what we do for professionals in the legal, medical, compliance, and tax and accounting spaces. It’s quite a diversified business and it’s kept me busy, interested, and learning all the time, and has allowed me to apply my skill sets. That’s what brought me here and keeps me here.
Your recent appointment to the role of general manager of Wolters Kluwer Legal and Regulatory U.S. is exciting news. What can you tell us about this new role and your hopes and expectations—for you personally, as well as the continued development of the company?
During two of my years at Citigroup during the financial crisis, I was working on strategy for a wide variety of international businesses with operations across around the world – but for the other seven years, I was in an operating role for a specific division. From there I went to S&P to lead transformation, which was also a very hands-on role. Here at Wolters Kluwer, I’ve been in what is largely a “strategy” or “transformative” role. But I did miss the day-to-day operational aspects of actually implementing the change directly.
We are an ambitious business, and many of the strategies we’ve talked about have been implemented – that has been immensely satisfying. Our company’s market cap has also increased dramatically in the past few years, so I’m very pleased about that – but I was still missing something, and that was an operational role. Somewhere in the middle of the pandemic, when everyone was reflecting on their career path forward, I raised it with our CEO, adding that I was eager to be part of the transformational change propelled by the pandemic.
Then this opportunity presented itself and I took it.
This is an extraordinary leadership opportunity. How would you describe your leadership style, and who or what influenced it?
Yes, this is indeed my latest and greatest leadership opportunity, and my primary goal is to be a good steward for this business. You can call it a business but in my mind it’s a portfolio of a lot of talented people, front to back, producing content, services, and software. The first part of my work is to do no harm. The second is to continue to nurture the business, innovate where we need to, advance our products and services, and leave it in even better shape than I found it. In short, I want to continue down the track of making it more relevant to our customers and also to the parent company.
What kind of leadership style will that require? In some instances, I’ll have to delegate. In others, I’ll have to lead by example, which is my typical M.O. We have a diverse set of offerings within this business, each of which needs a different kind of touch. So, my leadership style will vary based on the situation and will be informed by my experience leading our teams and talent forward into the future. I’ve spent a lot of time outside of content and information services, and have a lot to learn, but also bring in new perspectives. And I have had very good bosses and mentors. I’m also continually inspired by the leadership of the New York Hall of Science, where I’m privileged to be on the board.
Now that you are focusing on the legal industry, what are your hopes for the future of the profession more broadly?
The 2021 Wolters Kluwer Future Ready Lawyers Survey included inputs from both corporate legal departments (CLDs) and law firms, and it yielded a lot of different insights. There are some commonalities for both CLDs and law firms around adoption of technology, driving efficiency, getting to better outcomes, increasing specialization, and fostering better collaboration with customers (external for law firms; internal for in-house law departments).
For CLDs, challenges will include how to partner with procurement, sales, the CFO, audits, and with the many things happening in the world that impact a firm’s legal position or legal risk (like the pandemic or cybersecurity, privacy to name a few). General counsels have more things they need to keep their eye on, get involved in, and make decisions about. It’s going to be a more complex world where there will be more asked of the legal department and the law firms that serve them. That’s a boiled-down version of the survey. I’d encourage everyone to read through it – there are some very good insights in there.
We’ve heard many nice things about your strategic focus and technical expertise, as well as your commitment to “customer-focused innovation.” Can you share your thoughts on what that means to you and Wolters Kluwer?
I think I can break that phrase down into “customer focused” and then “innovation.” The work I’ve done throughout my career speaks to the fact that innovation is near and dear to my heart. Throughout my professional career, customer focus has also featured prominently in my work. You start with the customer’s needs, both articulated and unarticulated, and then work your way backwards from there, thinking about how your current platforms and services are meeting those needs, and keep the competition in mind. It’s important to consider what else you can do to better address those needs and meet your customers where they are – and while you should understand where their business is going, you don’t want to be too far ahead of them or too far behind them. You have to maintain this pace with your customers and then everything sort of clicks into place. I have a very customer-first mindset, and it has served me, my colleagues, and the endeavors I have undertaken very well.
I also keep a constant eye on the competition. We have quite formidable competitors in our spaces, but our customer focus is key to our company priorities and growth plans. It’s important to align our product development, product transformation, and the capabilities we have been investing in with what the customer needs, or may need in the future, and that drives our innovation efforts and the advancement of our offerings – and continue to be the very best at what we do in our areas of specialization. That’s why I break that phrase down into its two components: to show how integral they are to one another and our mission.
What role do you see Wolters Kluwer playing in the evolution of the legal profession?
Wolters Kluwer will continue to be a premier provider in the legal space, not only for law firms but also for corporate legal departments. We provide very focused content to the CLDs and want to deliver more cross-border content through our Kluwer Law International (KLI) brand. We also have sister businesses focused on spend and matter management which serve the upper end of the market — large CLDs that have a very high legal intensity and external legal spend. There is also a market for our insights among the mid-tier and smaller CLDs – which are more compact, have more on their hands, and have less external legal spend – that are looking to become more effective, connected, and collaborative.
In addition, we intend to further scale our Legisway legal management software. It is already very successful in Europe, and we hope to provide it to more and more CLDs in the U.S. So those are the type of things we are going to bring to the market: more focused insights, digital with hopefully some analytics, and also what I call a workflow-based platform that allows for better collaboration in places like contract life cycle management, IP management, entity management, business collaboration tools and so forth.
Demand for what we have to offer will continue at a steady pace, driven by the information explosion and increased regulation in the U.S. and around the world. ESG is another new thematic, with Europe leading the U.S. in promulgating policies and regulations. There’s a lot on the plates of legal professionals, and our intent is to serve them with more precise and actionable content, as well as insights and analytics coming out of that content.
Our goal is two-fold: to make sure that our customers are more effective at getting to outcomes for their customers, and to embed ourselves in the workflow of the legal community, be it on the content side or on the operations side. Over the past few years, we have seen the emergence of the legal operations professional within CLDs – and as they continue to become more prevalent and being change agents, we can expect to see in-house departments start to run more like other corporate functions, and apply more structure, business processes & KPIs, and leverage technology to drive more transparency and reduce internal friction. Increasingly, law departments are being looked to for more decision-making and facilitations as a key player in the corporate core. Expect for Wolters Kluwer to be here with more expert solutions and digital tools to help them get to better outcomes.