Meet The Union Board: Richard W. Shepro, Board Member since 2014

Meet The Union Board: Richard W. Shepro, Board Member since 2014

As part of our Meet the Board series, in which we interview members of The Union’s Board of Directors, we talk to Richard W. Shepro.

The Union’s global operations create a demanding and complex environment, requiring diverse skills and experience from its Board of Directors. Speaking recently, José Luis Castro, The Union’s Executive Director, stressed that the intricacies of The Union require “a leadership team capable of offering a multidisciplinary approach to solutions for the many issues that present themselves as part of The Union’s operational work.”
Richard – Rick - Shepro fulfils this goal and more besides. With over 35-years’ experience as a lawyer dealing with corporate governance and complex international structures and transactions as a Partner in the law firm of Mayer Brown LLP, one of the world’s most prestigious law firms, he also teaches law at the University of Chicago. He has been described by Lord King, former Governor of the Bank of England, as “one of the finest legal minds in the USA.” His academic credentials include degrees from Harvard College, the London School of Economics and Harvard Law School.

Dr Jane Carter appointed Rick to the Board in 2014 to bring his extensive international legal expertise to The Union, having identified the need for advice relating to issues such as governance structures within The Union and the legal relationships developing between the Paris office and the international offices under complex and, at times, competing international regulations.  Dr. Jeremiah Chakaya Muhwa has renewed Rick’s annual appointment, recognising his many and varied contributions to The Union’s Board work.
Rick says, “Tuberculosis, HIV and the myriad of other issues The Union deals with are fascinating to me – but these are issues that desperately need more resources. As I began to know the people and the breadth of the work, I realised that the role of The Union is critical and I was moved to include The Union as a pro-bono client at my Firm. I was glad to be able to announce this support at the 45th Union World Conference on Lung Health in Barcelona. I am very happy we are able to contribute expertise that can be helpful in furthering this great mission.”
Explaining why expert legal counsel is not merely useful to have, but absolutely essential, Rick says, “The Union operates in an intricate, international arena, offering support on lung health issues to many different countries. However, it must have a legal structure to carry out this work. Whether considering scientific research, supporting health systems or simply helping patients, none of this is possible without legal fortification. Issues such as who is in charge, who makes the decisions, who is responsible, and what laws must be complied with – these are all fundamental to corporate governance and is where I come in. There are legal issues involved in almost everything The Union does.”
He adds, “It also takes a lawyer to spot legal ramifications and that is the first goal of good legal counsel, knowing when legal issues exist and then to explain issues and solutions in a way that is helpful to management and the Board in their decision-making.”
An example of where legal expertise proved vital was in the reorganisation of
The Union’s Membership in 2016. Rick was legal advisor for a complex process that involved fundamental changes to The Union’s constitution and required action by committees of the Board, the Board of Directors itself, and ultimately the General Assembly to amend the charter documents.
“Being a membership organisation is integral to the spirit of The Union. In a legal sense, the membership collectively owns The Union and is the ultimate control for The Union. That’s why constitutional changes must go before the General Assembly. Having members in so many different countries who commit themselves to participate is what keeps The Union vital and connected to people involved in public health throughout the world.”
For Rick, another advantage working with The Union is its long history based in Paris and its operations under French law. A fluent French-speaker, Rick’s long-standing admiration for the country has seen his career be, at times, focused on French law and French clients, as well as acting on behalf of non-French clients who are interested in having a presence in the country.
“I love immersing myself in other cultures and feel particularly connected to France, another thing that drew me to The Union. My Firm has a large Paris office and I am constantly involved in legal matters in France, including a recent trial in the courtroom adjacent to the courtroom where Marie Antoinette was tried…” 

As a governance expert, Rick has a long-standing fascination with the dynamics of boards of directors. In 1990, his book – ‘Bidders and Targets: Mergers and Acquisitions in the U.S.’ – was published by Blackwell and includes insights into how board members interact, for better or worse.

“Individual directors of an organisation aren’t perfect,” says Rick. “They all have limitations created by their own perspective, but when you get a board of directors together in a room, all bringing their own thoughts and insights, something magical happens with a well-functioning board that results in better decision-making and sometimes new directions for an organisation that a single person may not have come up with.”

He adds, “There is a check and balance in hearing different points of view within the board, and that’s what I like to promote as a board member.  One of my roles as a lawyer is to help create the conditions for that kind of governance to occur.  In the time I’ve been associated with The Union, I think the Board of Directors, led by two highly capable and inspiring Presidents, has functioned very effectively.”  

Since 2014, Rick has come to know The Union well and is frustrated that its work is not always as front of mind with stakeholders and potential funders as it could be. “Obviously, I'd like to see more funding for The Union’s vital work. I’d also like to see more resources that could fund much-needed staff – many people are often over-burdened across all departments – and more research, more clinical trials, more of everything that The Union does. This is a great organisation, working wonders on the most limited of budgets. As a financial expert, I think this is laudable, but as someone who sees the impact of how limited funds have been handled to bring the greatest aid to people and communities, I am in awe.”
Given the commitments in Rick’s working life, it is difficult to imagine him having time for anything else. However, Rick is a renowned expert in the academic study of gastronomy and has been selected four times as lecturer at the prestigious annual Oxford Symposium of Food and Cookery. He is also a Director of Lyric Opera of Chicago; a Governing Member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; and Chair of the Visiting Committee of the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. He explains, “On the face of it, these are very different to my work as a lawyer and my role with The Union, but these are all activities with responsibilities – and that is common denominator with all my interests, be they work or leisure. I want to have an impact.”
Ultimately, for Rick, it is the diverse mix of “highly capable people” that provides the greatest rewards of working within The Union: “It’s such a pleasure to work with people like José Luis Castro, Dr Jane Carter, Dr Jeremiah Chakaya Muhwa and Jimmy (Louis-James) de Viel Castel. These are people who would credit any organisation – commercial or otherwise. That they are with The Union is fantastic and The Union is fortunate indeed.” 

“One of the unique strengths of The Union is the diversity of its staff, consultants and collaborators. I am delighted that, as our operations become more complex, we have Rick’s brilliant legal mind to call upon and guide us. He truly understands our work and the different countries in which we work.  Astonishingly, this support is provided to us on a pro-bono basis. Depend upon it, if the time donated by Mayer Brown’s Paris and Chicago offices was charged at market rates, the amount would run into millions of euros. Many countries – and their public health systems – are indebted to Rick and his generosity.”
José Luis Castro, Executive Director, The Union
“The Union is a complex organisation, with interests in many areas and countries, all with their own unique rules and regulations. Rick Shepro is a lawyer of immense experience in global markets. Having him on The Union Board to guide us through legal issues – and potential legal minefields – has been invaluable and enables The Union to concentrate on its core work, helping the poor, confident in the knowledge that any legal ramifications have been well taken care of.”
Dr Jeremiah Chakaya Muhwa, President, The Union 
The Union Board comprises the elected leaders of the regions and sections as well as 10 individual seats elected through the General Assembly. The Union President then appoints to the board the Chair of the Coordinating Committee of Scientific Activities (CCSA) and has the discretion to appoint up to two other one-year seats for individuals with special expertise that the Board has identified as a priority need.