In any merger, there is diligence due and risk to asses, but the real success of the chemical company’s legal department starts with its vision, which David Golden boils down to a simple mantra: “One legal department. One client, Eastman.”
Eastman’s materials are in a host of consumer products, from sticky notes to BPA-free, dishwasher-safe water bottles. As the nation’s 30th largest exporter, it has long benefited from international markets and saw opportunity to continue capitalizing in emerging economies in Europe and Asia. Sales quickly showed Solutia to be a lucrative complement to Eastman’s portfolio, but coalescing the two companies’ legal departments, which span three continents, took some behind-the-scenes finessing.
Solutia’s domestic home base was in St. Louis, Missouri, so once the shuffling of employees settled and the team emerged that would take the two businesses forward as one, Golden’s first move was to bring one of his best leaders from Eastman’s international operations team to Missouri to learn about his new colleagues. Headquartered in Tennessee, Eastman also has legal operations blocks away from Solutia’s Asian office. With the “Solutia ambassador” stateside, Golden promoted a regional legal director from Solutia’s ranks in Asia. “We paid $4.8 billion for this wonderful legal department,” he jokes of the talent he could find on both sides of the merger. “You could tell Solutia hired great people, and part of our effort was to provide them promotional opportunities.”
Key to serving the business is understanding it, and attorneys under the Eastman flag are tasked with knowing the fundamentals of how the business makes money so that they can advise and facilitate the business’s growth strategy. “In a constrained resource environment, our work has to ultimately translate into added value for Eastman’s customers,” Golden says. “We won’t get more resources, so in order to deliver, prioritization is huge.”
Everything from process optimization to product commercialization to safety must pass muster, and Golden says a legal department with the acumen to make not just legal, but business calls—like prioritizing review of a blockbuster polymer over tweaking an existing product—is one that successfully serves the internal and external clients.
“We hope legal can contribute insight at all levels,” Golden says. “That can occur at the CEO level, or it might be at the development stage. If we have a tech manager kicking around a new molecule, hopefully they feel they can talk with legal about how it will be treated in a foreign jurisdiction.”
Golden has a personal philosophy that he imparts to his team and contributes to the humbleness that guides his department: “Hopefully you’re the best at something,” he says, “but don’t resent it if someone is better than you at something else. Value having the best on your team, and if you are the best, wear that honor with humility.” At Eastman, Golden reiterates his fortune at having the best on his now larger, more global team. So long as he is leading legal, humility is sure to follow.