In 2013, WASH Multifamily Laundry Systems—North America’s leading laundry facilities management service company—was on the cusp of a major expansion. As a result, the company brought in Craig Levine as its first international general counsel to manage its many mergers and acquisitions and guide the company through its next phase of evolution. Inspired by the success of well-structured transactions that benefit both parties, Levine had always viewed M&A as the most rewarding role for a lawyer, and he warmed to his new in-house role rather quickly.
In quick succession, dozens of those transactions soon followed, including a recapitalization in 2015. Fast and furious activity such as that might have been overwhelming for many lawyers, but Levine says the eye of the storm was right where he wanted to be.
“I look at myself as a can-do lawyer,” says Levine, now executive vice president, general counsel, and secretary of WASH. “In M&A, you have to weigh the risks against the benefits. There is always some risk in every transaction, and my job is to mitigate that. We’ve been successful in all of the deals we’ve closed and avoided significant post-closing liabilities. By leveraging my experience in transactions, the board and the rest of the management team can focus on execution and realizing opportunities rather than spending time on things that are primarily legal in nature.”
As acquisitions across the United States and in Canada have accumulated, Levine has also assumed responsibility for corporate compliance and enforcing the company’s commitment to business ethics. As the myriad compliance regulations that arrive on Levine’s desk demonstrate, it’s evident that a blanket approach to compliance is inadequate because every jurisdiction WASH enters has different requirements.
“Canada itself is a different regulatory environment, and every province there has different rules,” he explains. “Because our majority investor is a large European private equity sponsor, we have taken steps to ensure WASH is committed to furthering their goals and commitment to responsible investing principles as well. We have to keep up to speed on changes in the law as they impact our customers and employees. Our strategy is to be one step ahead and make sure we implement best practices.”
To accomplish this, Levine and WASH have been depending heavily on the latest technologies. “We’re leveraging tech solutions across the portfolio,” Levine says. “We are moving over to mobile payments because they are easier for end users. Over the past couple of years, we’ve been integrating tech solutions into contracts, vendor agreements, and internal policies, and we have adopted a culture based on embracing change rather than fighting it. My team is determined to protect the organization and connect data, and tech helps us do that.”
When Levine arrived at WASH, the company’s former general counsel was in the process of retiring, and it was Levine’s duty to grow the business and take advantage of the clean slate presented to him. Levine says that this challenge was particularly exciting for him because of the scale of the enterprise. “I had seen firsthand where gaps in compliance caused issues for clients during my private practice, and I immediately set about turning over rocks to do a more comprehensive assessment of where WASH was and where it needed to be,” he says.
As a result, Levine looked for talent with the specific management skills needed to support the company’s growth plans. Whereas the prior general counsel had focused mostly on real estate, Levine began to fill the department with people who had backgrounds in not only real estate, but also in various new areas: commercial transactions, credit card processing, technology, and intellectual property. He also sought to reduce the company’s reliance on outside lawyers and bring more of that work in-house.
“The first thing I did was look at all the law firms we were using and ask, ‘Are we getting the best value possible?’ Now, all the outside firms we work with conform to our billing guidelines and submit invoices electronically for review,” Levine says. “We make a point of meeting with them in person and always holding them accountable.”
As of press time, there were four lawyers in Levine’s department. One is in Canada who reports to Levine and handles various legal aspects of the Canadian enterprise with a specific focus on contract review, risk mitigation, and corporate governance. One attorney in the United States handles day-to-day matters with a specific emphasis on insurance compliance and contract review. And a junior attorney works with Levine on various subjects such as acquisitions, tech initiatives, vendor contracts, and compliance. Additionally, there are five paralegals who make the team more robust and support the legal team and overall business.
As Levine continues to transform the legal department, he does so with a clear vision in mind, keeping an eye on the overall purpose of the legal team and the other on the rapidly emerging technology that can help them. He says that embracing change is a cornerstone of his approach and something he is constantly communicating to his team.
“The company has been around since 1947, and there is a lot of history that we’re rightly proud of,” he says. “We want to keep that in place but also be able to change with the future and make sure that we are relevant ten, twenty, and even fifty years from now. Nobody would have envisioned Uber or Airbnb ten years ago, but now that’s the norm. We are looking at the future of laundry and multifamily laundry room management, and it’s exciting to be a part of that.”
Photo: Cathy Jackson, German Martinez