Features

Stefania Geraci – Grassi & Co.

Taking on the next big challenge

During her time as General Counsel for the North American arm of Italian eyewear giant Luxottica, Stefania Geraci’s duties covered just about every conceivable legal base: contracts, compliance, intellectual property (IP), mergers and acquisitions (M&A), real estate, litigation, risk management, health care—you get the idea.

That she oversaw all these functions at a company long considered an industry pioneer, with billions in annual sales and a global footprint, certainly heightened the stakes (and her ability to navigate ever-evolving terrain).

Stefania Geraci – Grassi & Co.

Stefania Geraci | General Counsel | Grassi & Co.

So when the opportunity came to join a regional accounting and advisory firm, she was initially reticent. A new company, a different industry, managing a legal department a fraction of the size of the one she’d been helming—it wasn’t clear to Geraci that this was the right opportunity for her.

That is, until she remembered just how much fun it was to challenge herself—to not only explore new terrain but master it.

“When I first joined private practice, the legal landscape was changing dramatically,” Geraci recalls. “IP was evolving very fast; the Internet was just coming into its own. It was an inspiring time, with all new issues and cases of first impression. I loved it. I thrive in an environment of trial by fire.”

New frontiers

In a November interview with Vanguard, Geraci expressed excitement about her new role as general counsel for Grassi & Co., a top 100 regional accounting firm that provides advisory services for companies and businesses across the industry spectrum— from architecture and construction to entertainment, health care, technology and real estate.

For Geraci, the breadth of industries meant a unique opportunity to learn about legal issues across a variety of fields.

“Whenever you encounter a change like this, your only choice is to dive right in,” Geraci says. “It’s been an engaging and informative process: learning about the accounting and advisory industries; understanding the needs of different departments; figuring out how the legal department can support the broader business.”

While many of Geraci’s skills have proved instantly applicable—strategy, negotiating, risk management and so on—one is proving particularly valuable: collaboration.

Priding herself on her ability to integrate and work with diverse teams, Geraci has long believed that success requires a cooperative atmosphere that allows for a partnership between business clients and legal team members.

“It doesn’t help to tell your clients all the risks if you can’t also offer a path forward,” she says. “In order to find that path you have to be on the same page with everyone. You only get there by listening, collaborating and trusting each other.”

Working smarter

In addition to collaborating with a new team, Geraci is excited to bring her expertise in legal operations to Grassi.

The goal, she says, is to bring her department into closer alignment with Grassi’s business objectives. To that end, she’s employing a value-risk matrix that will provide clearer guidelines for everything from when an issue is brought to the legal department to what processes should be automated.

Stefania Geraci – Grassi & Co.

On the workflow side, she’s creating new templates for things like acquisitions and engagement letters, as well as developing comprehensive training for all employees—protocols that will include everything from NDAs to document demands.

“Given my experience in managing larger legal departments, I have the opportunity to bring tested processes and new habits to a growing company,” Geraci says. “It’s all about showing them the best practices and eliminating inefficiencies so we can focus on adding value to the company.”

More broadly, she talks about the importance of “having a seat at the table”—one that gives her a 360-degree view of the company: where it is, where it’s going and how to get there smoothly.

Indeed, if anyone understands the power of dreaming big and looking ahead, it’s Geraci.

A different flock

How does a top-notch student become the black sheep of the family? In Geraci’s case, by not joining the family trade.

“I come from a family of physicians, and when they talk about lawyers its usually to make jokes,” Geraci recalls with a laugh. “It never bothered me though and I never looked back. I always had a passion for persuasion. Being an attorney is something that comes very naturally to me.”

A 1996 graduate of Barnard College at Columbia University, where she studied political science, Geraci earned her J.D. in 1999 from the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law in New York City.

After considering a more traditional legal path (litigation and criminal law were both on the table), Geraci’s first job as an associate for the New York firm of Thelen Reid Brown Raysman and Steiner quickly proved fortuitous.

“It was right around the time the Internet was starting to explode, and along with that you had this kind of IP Wild West,” Geraci recalls. “Everyone was learning at the same time. That really propelled my career forward in a way that might not have been possible 10 years earlier—or even 10 years later.”

Embracing the challenge

After seven years of law firm life, Geraci’s knack for business made her well-suited for a move in-house. At Luxottica, she found a great fit in a high-octane industry with plenty of room to evolve.

Over time, Geraci’s responsibilities grew from mostly IP work to include high-stakes M&A (she helped shepherd Luxottica’s 2018 merger with Essilor—a move that doubled the company’s size). She handled all manner of legal oversight, including Luxottica’s 4000+ retail points and its relationships with hosts, Target, Sears and Macys, not to mention the marketing and promotion of key brands like Ray-Ban, Oakley, LensCrafters and Sunglass Hut.

But it was the evolution of her leadership style that Geraci cites as most valuable—especially as she takes over the helm at Grassi. She’s embraced the value of accepting challenges and championing an environment where collaboration and transparency are encouraged.

“As a GC, you have a unique opportunity to show the way towards success and lead the effort on collaboration,” Geraci says. “People are looking for that; and in the end everyone wins.”

 

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