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Heading Up Global Products Counsel at an F500 Pharmaceuticals Company

June 2021
By Axiom Law

Get to know John Spinnato at a glance:

  • 30+ years’ experience
  • Served as the GC, Corporate Secretary and Head of Corporate Social Responsibility for a Global Fortune 50 Company
  • Currently engaged as Products Counsel at a F500 pharmaceuticals company

Axiom lawyer John Spinnato brings decades of legal experience to clients in the life sciences industry. Following a long career serving in-house at multinational companies, supporting pharmaceutical and healthcare divisions, John chose Axiom over retirement.

Currently engaged at a leading Fortune 500 pharmaceuticals company, John prides himself not only on his legal expertise but also on his interpersonal skills and willingness to learn from others’ experiences. In addition, he’s been committed to cultivating diversity and inclusion in the legal industry through much of his career. A commitment shared by Axiom.

Working with companies outside the US has been a major factor in the development of those skills. “It gave me an insight into how to collaborate and be tolerant, put yourself in other people’s shoes, and learn to think very differently from how we as Americans normally tend to approach law and business,” John observes. And, at this moment, during an international health crisis, those skills are of great importance in the life sciences industry.

John Spinnato

Delivering value across teams

John describes himself as, “one of those people that firmly believes the best way to succeed in life is to keep your options open, to be flexible, and to consider alternatives,” an approach that led him to work for Axiom and continue practicing law after his official retirement. 

His current engagement is serving as Global Products Counsel for a F500 pharmaceuticals company. In this role, which he describes as “the mini-General Counsel for the particular brand,” he manages risk and compliance on the company’s advertising and promotional materials along with FDA regulatory work. John has served in several business units of the company, including women’s health, oncology, immunology, biosimilars, and hospital business. 

“I get to move around wherever there's a particular need,” he says. “There are lots of opportunities and to work with and learn about various classes of products is really interesting.” Throughout his engagements, he’s found the process of integrating with the client’s teams to be “simple and satisfying,” especially because of the caliber of the client’s legal, medical, regulatory, and business teams. In addition, thanks to his deep industry experience, he’s able to get down to business quickly and easily with any team with which he works.

John calls the variety of areas and units in which he has worked, and the collaborative nature of the work, the most rewarding aspects of his Axiom engagements. “That has been very enriching for me in terms of understanding the business and the science,” he says.  

John Spinnato Quote 1

A career at leading international companies underlined by empathy

John’s first job out of law school was in the ombudsman’s office in Iowa’s state government, which he says provided him with “a good background in administrative law. Alternative dispute resolution was very important in terms of how I thought and how I developed as a lawyer.” He went on to earn a Master of International Law -- his primary interest at law school -- at Georgetown University.

John worked in the services division of Pan-Am, before moving to Paris to take a role at Elf Aquitaine, later acquired by Total, a Fortune Global 50 oil and gas company. He gradually became more involved with its then affiliate, Sanofi, a Fortune Global 500 pharmaceuticals business, which eventually sent him to New York City to be the company’s first American attorney located in the US. “I grew up with the company,” John says. “I basically was a department of one, plus an assistant, and then that grew as the company grew.” After serving 30 years for the same parent company, John rose to head of corporate social responsibility and president of the corporate charitable foundation. 

John considers his experiences as a US lawyer inside a French company to be hugely influential in both his professional and personal lives. Abroad he “felt there was a proving ground” in terms of building trust as an outsider from a different culture. And he observed that while laws in different countries vary in how they’re interpreted, those laws “by and large aimed in the same direction.” Those experiences also enhanced his empathy -- a skill he counts among his professional strengths along with pragmatism and an ability to make clear decisions after synthesizing information.

John found the diversity of Axiom’s bench edifying. Through his experiences in corporate responsibility and observing racial disparities in certain areas of the legal profession, he believes companies can “improve the quality of their legal department by virtue of diversity.” He also sits on the board of the NAACP Foundation.

How legal can streamline operations without creating risk

As the legal industry continues to navigate economic uncertainty fueled by the pandemic, John sees a trend in streamlining headcount at both in-house legal departments and traditional law firms. “It's not just to save money," but it's also, "How can we work better and smarter?” 

John advises companies to be cautious and to weigh cost reduction against the value of legal expertise and the efficiency it brings to business workflows. When legal is overworked, he says, “sometimes the answers aren't as thoroughly thought through. You run tremendous risks by not having sufficiently good and thorough legal review.” 

The solution, as he sees it, is also the solution Axiom offers our clients: Access to the specific legal expertise they need for the duration they need it. He explains, “If you get a flood of litigation you may not want to hire ten litigators on your staff,” he explains. "But, you may want a model that allows you to manage a team in-house without increasing your headcount while also accessing top expertise, great skills, and flexibility when you need them. And that’s what Axiom offers and what is great about Axiom.”

To learn how your business can work with experienced, committed, well-rounded lawyers like John Spinnato -- or to learn how to devote your own legal expertise to innovative companies -- reach out to Axiom today.


Posted by Axiom Law