How a Major Acquisition Forever Changed Haskell

Discover how Jeff Miller led a small but mighty team through the acquisition process, and how the legal team helped set the tone for the bigger and better company

Jeff Miller, The Haskell Company

When Jeff Miller left work on March 15, 2016, his department supported about 425 employees. The next day, they were responsible for roughly 1,300. Miller was senior counsel at Leidos. But when Haskell, a global leader in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry acquired Leidos Engineering’s Benham operations, Miller’s litigation and contract duties tripled overnight.

The move from Benham to Haskell could have overwhelmed many lawyers, but Miller has been practicing law for twenty-five years. The Oklahoma native earned a law degree from the University of Oklahoma and a bachelor of science in manufacturing engineering technology from Oklahoma State University. He’s represented insurers, manufacturers, business owners, and general contractors of all types and sizes. He even owned his own small construction company for a few years. The extensive experience and deep understanding of the industry gives Miller inside knowledge that he leverages to weather the most challenging of situations.

“I needed to prove that we could reduce reliance on outside counsel, support specific growth and strategic objectives, and add value to Haskell clients through more efficient transactions.”

Miller brought his existing legal team to Haskell after the acquisition. However, Haskell never had an in-house legal team. Leaders and project managers previously worked with autonomy and turned to outside firms whenever projects became difficult. Thus, Miller worked to inform and educate the company about his team’s capabilities. “I had to gain the trust of business group leaders and those in the C-suite,” he explains. “I needed to prove that we could reduce reliance on outside counsel, support specific growth and strategic objectives, and add value to Haskell clients through more efficient transactions.”

Leaders first came to his department with simple contracts and negotiations. But after several meetings, some in-house training, and about eight months of tireless work, Miller became Haskell’s chief counsel, and the company officially formed the Haskell legal department. Still, Miller had to explain the value of in-house legal and contracts services. To do so, he focused on how a speedy response from legal would help retain customers, complete projects, and drive business. “An in-house team is a true business partner. We’re not simply managing risk. We’re looking for solutions,” Miller says.

While Haskell still relies on outside firms for litigation and uniquely complex matters, Miller has won the confidence of his business counterparts. Integrating the largest acquisition in Haskell’s history, though, was a challenge. To find success, Miller and other leaders knew they would have to learn and appreciate the cultures from both companies while uncovering policies and procedures that would work best for the new and bigger company. To start, Miller began by auditing existing policies and producers of both Haskell and Benham, and in doing so, he discovered some areas of overlap.

The companies had grown in similar ways and had similar markets and projects. Miller acted as a bridge between both sides, facilitating conversations about challenges and risks that each company had experienced. He worked to help Haskell understand how it could leverage Benham assets, and he worked to help the legacy Benham employees understand the benefits of life as a larger organization.

Legal led training efforts and created new, standardized contracts. For several months, Miller worked with one other attorney and a contract specialist. In February 2017, he added a second specialist. At the same time, he convinced leaders to give his second-in-command the title of senior counsel. The move allowed Miller to off-load the day-to-day management of contracts so that he could focus more on litigation. Today, Haskell is a fully integrated, single source design-build and engineering procurement construction firm with roughly $1 billion in annual revenue and high-stakes projects around the globe. As head of the internal legal team, Miller leads a small but mighty group of dedicated professionals who negotiate all contracts, advise management, and handle claims and litigation. Two years in, the department has earned credibility and decreased outside legal spend dramatically.

Miller says that, while rewarding, it hasn’t been an easy road. “We’re confident in our abilities, but the volume of work is huge, and there’s no trick to managing it,” he says. “The keys are talent, time, and efficiency. We can’t let up because there is always work to be done, and we have to do it well.”

As a leader at a major organization, Miller strives to strike a balance between personal and professional responsibilities. That’s not always easy with four children between the ages of fourteen and twenty-three. “I encourage people on my team to make work/life balance a priority,” he says. “For me, it’s helpful that I have an amazing and supportive wife. I enjoy this work, but time away from home is a concern that many of us deal with.” Miller recognizes that many of his peers in the industry face this same struggle. He says one tool that’s helped him navigate with success is frequent and clear communication.

Internalizing Haskell’s legal department was a natural step in the company’s growth to a bigger and more complex enterprise. The legal team responds quickly, decreasing delivery time for critical documents such as project agreements and contracts. That means Haskell project managers see faster project delivery, and Haskell clients realize more value.

In fact, 2017 brought Haskell’s largest annual revenue in company history. And Miller says the organization is on track for another “very good” year in 2018.

Next, Miller hopes to grow his team and take a comprehensive look at risk management and compliance. Together, they’ll build a complete contracts database and roll out standard documents to bring more uniformity while introducing other best practices to reinforce the continued growth of Haskell’s enterprise.

Photo: Anna Marie Miller

Part of Haskell’s continued success, as again recognized by Engineering News-Record, is its ability to recognize and enable talented people. Jeff Miller is a great example. Jeff quickly established himself as a trusted advisor across Haskell’s organization, while building its first legal department. We at Gunster are honored to be a part of Jeff’s team.