Senior Vice President and General Counsel, NCS Pearson Inc.
The exams we deliver at Pearson VUE have a direct and positive impact on communities around the globe, driving progress and helping our clients deliver on the promise of their industries. In this series, we’re taking a deeper look at the ways we make that happen, by speaking to people from around our business who are making a lasting impact in a particular area of assessments.
This time we’re speaking to Cordell Jung, Senior Vice President and General Counsel in Pearson’s Assessments and Qualifications business. A strategic business adviser to the executive team, Cordell oversees legal, regulatory, and compliance matters across the global organization. As General Counsel, he has legal responsibility for Pearson VUE, Pearson School Assessments, Pearson UK Qualifications Services, and Pearson Clinical Assessment.
While managing an international legal team that has developed several key business strategies, he also leads efforts in the pursuit of criminal and civil recourse to enhance the security of exam delivery.
And in his spare time (really, when does he have spare time?), Cordell sits on a non-profit board that sponsors programs promoting education, finance, and physical/mental health for underrepresented communities in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.
Q. Cordell, congratulations on your win as one of the 2022 ONCON ICON AWARDS Top 50 Corporate Counselors, and also for your inclusion on the Twin Cities Business list of 2022 Notable General Counsel. What does your inclusion on these prestigious lists mean to you?
It is such an honor to be recognized by peers and different organizations for all the hard work we have done as a team to support the organization, its mission, our customers, and the millions of testing candidates we serve and protect every day. We have heard numerous times from the leaders in our organization about how much they value our input on legal and commercial issues, but to see that now being recognized outside the organization is quite an honor.
To learn more about these awards, please visit the links to the 2022 ONCON ICON AWARDS Top 50 Corporate Counselors (opens in a new tab), and the Twin Cities Business list of 2022 Notable General Counsel (opens in a new tab).
Q. We’d love to learn more about you. Could you please tell us about yourself? What drives and inspires you?
I have been extremely fortunate to have traveled to over 40 countries and almost every U.S. state. I really enjoy learning about people from a wide variety of backgrounds. I believe these experiences have provided me with a broad and diverse perspective on life, which has benefited me immensely.
What inspires me is helping people, especially by working on difficult problems with smart people, who are in no short supply at Pearson. What I thoroughly enjoy about working at Pearson is all the lives we affect — people obtaining their professional credentials so they can start a new career journey or advance their current career. I also enjoy seeing people (including myself) learn new things or think about issues from a different perspective. My team knows how much I enjoy vigorous discussions with diverse opinions, especially candid discussions where they can question my ideas and decisions. I believe that process has really helped my team and me make better decisions and enabled us to be better individuals.
Q. Please briefly describe your role at Pearson and within Pearson VUE. What comprises your typical day?
My typical day almost always involves something new. When I interview potential lawyers to work at Pearson, I always tell them the greatest thing about our jobs is that we don’t know what to expect when we come to work each day. Then I say the worst thing about our jobs is we come in every day and don’t know what to expect!
My typical work week involves one of about 10 major categories. There would be some elements of business strategy. Then there would likely be some discussion around data privacy, litigation, corporate governance/compliance, acquisition activity, escalation of a major deal, brainstorming about a new business model, working on an investigation, and some sort of intellectual property discussion. We also spend time discussing automation and efficiencies.
Q. Considering your efforts in the pursuit of criminal recourse to defend and protect the integrity of secure exam delivery, what are some of the key challenges and opportunities you have identified?
We work with prosecutors to pursue cheaters and shut down fraud around the globe to ensure there is a level playing field for all test-takers, and also to protect our society at large. The challenge in this area has been educating the public on the importance of these certification/licensing standards and how they protect the health, welfare, and safety of society.
When people cheat on an exam and do not pass the qualifying standard for that profession, the risk of an issue or harm increases and subsequently, the trust society has in that profession will decrease.
As far as legal challenges faced in the assessment industry, there have been several domestic and international legal challenges in the areas of privacy and the use of biometrics.
For example, Pearson VUE uses a palm vein scan to verify candidate identity. It is a voluntary biometric device that is extremely privacy-friendly, as no one can see someone’s biometric information unless permission is granted each time.
Another challenge the industry faces involves privacy during at-home online testing. This arose last year (Ogletree v. Cleveland State Univ.) when a judge ruled that a university student’s right to privacy in his home outweighed the university’s right to scan his room prior to the test. The university was ultimately compelled to modify its procedures.
Other legal challenges have been in the area of discrimination. We work hard to make sure minorities or individuals with low-income backgrounds do not have an unfair disadvantage in their ability to be successful on the exams.
Q. What achievements, personally and professionally, are you most proud of?
I have been so fortunate to build and work with such an amazing team. When I started building my team, I brought over two colleagues from my previous employer who I knew would be great. However, my first unknown hire did not go so well. That experience taught me to first clarify what I was looking for in a team and then determine the best method for choosing new hires. That experience and introspection has paid extremely high dividends ever since — it's also been the key to building a team that focuses on driving value for the organization.
I’m also particularly proud of our privacy program. We test in over 180 countries. The program we have built is industry-leading and differentiating, helping our clients manage global data privacy issues.
Q. Having gained a great deal of experience in your career to date, what advice would you give younger general counsels aiming to leave their mark?
I would tell them not to be afraid to challenge themselves and ask their teams to challenge them as well. Some of the best decisions I have made are as a result of a team understanding that they will benefit from asking the difficult questions, even when the team leader has a different view. There are many situations where your team is closer to the issue and has some key understanding of it that you need to know. So, always try to encourage diverse perspectives and candid communications.
The other two pieces of advice I would offer are: 1) find ways to drive value for the organization; and 2) make sure everyone is clear on their roles and your expectations for them. On the first point, every organization is different, with different needs and gaps, and pushing yourself and your team to help the business achieve success is both rewarding and appreciated. On the second point, once everyone is clear on what they need to do to be successful, their ability to work efficiently and smartly increases. The ability to grow and think for the benefit of the organization is how to become a high-performing team.
Q. What hobbies / activities do you enjoy, and how do you like to unwind?
I enjoy reading about a variety of things including history, technology, social issues, and sports. My wife and I have taken several trips to different historical sites. I really enjoy learning the history of places I visit. I value spending time with friends and family. I also enjoy being active, whether that is biking, hiking, or going to the park with my young daughters. I am also an avid football and basketball fan, which isn’t always so enjoyable in Minnesota!