When Don Hinderliter II entered law school in 2002, he considered himself a “nontraditional” student. After all, he had already been to graduate business school and had been working as an analyst for Bombardier’s subsidiary, FlexJet, so he was not only older than most, but also had already embarked on a successful career.
Plus, he never wanted to be a lawyer—or so he thought. When going through some old boxes recently, he came across his high school yearbook, and under his senior photo it said his career aspirations were to be an orthodontist or attorney. “I don’t remember ever thinking that, but apparently, I did,” he says with a laugh.
Fast-forward nearly twenty years and Hinderliter now serves as the head of legal, general counsel, and corporate secretary of Sky Chefs Inc. d/b/a LSG Sky Chefs, a world-renowned name in airline catering. And in February 2021, Hinderliter won On Conferences Top 50 Corporate Counsel OnCon Icon Award, which recognizes the top 100 corporate counsel and legal vendors in the US.
Originally from outside Chicago, Hinderliter had gone to high school at the Marine Military Academy (MMA) in Harlingen, Texas, following in the footsteps of two of his older brothers. Back then, one of his brothers was interested in being a Marine Corps aviator, which sparked his interest in attending MMA, and Hinderliter followed six years later.
After four years away, he wanted to be closer to home, so he went to college at Loyola University Chicago. But his first winter was so bitterly cold, he decided to go back to warmer weather and transferred to the University of Texas in San Antonio, majoring in criminal justice. Next came his MBA at the University of Dallas and the job at FlexJet.
“I was getting bored, and my mentor and friend Steve Thompson, the older brother of a very good friend of mine from high school, asked what I thought about going to law school, and it sounded like a good idea,” Hinderliter says. So he headed to Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law.
His early legal experience included clerking in the Dallas County probate courts, working for two bankruptcy judges, and working as a paid intern with LSG Sky Chefs under General Counsel Howard Janco. After the internship ended, he was given various other tasks by Janco while finishing law school, and subsequently was hired directly in-house as an associate once he passed the bar. Hinderliter also credits his two other former general counsel, Anne Crowe and Anne Sparks, and current Global General Counsel Jan-Peter Ross, for their advice, coaching, and mentorship.
Though he didn’t join the company until 2005, Hinderliter notes that it was looking to diversify its revenue streams after 9/11 so that if another crisis happened, it could stay afloat until airline revenue returned. As a result, the convenience retail division was developed to bring in a different revenue stream. Due to COVID-19, LSG Sky Chefs is once again in uncharted waters and left searching for different lines of businesses. Hinderliter has been instrumental in helping navigate and position the company.
While climbing the company’s legal ladder, Hinderliter spent two assignments in Germany, the first being for three months in summer 2018 to provide commercial contract training and instruction to new attorneys and to offer contract review and legal support for all non-US global sales team members.
“Working in Germany was definitely different because once I was done with my German day, my US day was just starting,” he recalls. “But it was a great experience, and why not work in Europe when you have the opportunity?”
His second stint in the country lasted a bit longer—March through August 2019—as he took over for the head of legal of an affiliated company who had left the position. It was during this time that he became savvier with the language and the different customs.
Back in the US, Hinderliter now counsels the LSG Sky Chefs’ executive team on complex legal and business issues, such as contractual interpretation, bankruptcy, intellectual property, and antitrust. He also advises them on matters related to the Federal Aviation Administration, Food and Drug Administration, Department of Transportation, Transportation Security Administration and Department of Agriculture. Additionally, he handles all US transactions and commercial litigation, as well as puts forth recommendations on other legal issues.
COVID delayed one of his big 2020 goals, which was to implement a contract life-cycle management system. As the world slowly returns to a “new normal,” Hinderliter has made it a top priority for 2021 to finish the project. “This year will be a lot about continuing to navigate the CARES Act and the new package that was recently passed, while keeping an eye on compliance,” he notes.
Having risen from intern to general counsel, Hinderliter pays it forward by working with his alma mater as a participant in their Corporate Counsel Externship Program, which places approximately one hundred students with one hundred local companies in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex for a semester. In fact, both of his in-house attorneys came from SMU’s Dedman School of Law.
“It’s not a typical route to an in-house counsel role, but it’s a great way to give back,” he says. “I want to give that same opportunity that I was afforded.”
Pachulski Stang Ziehl & Jones and Mike Warner congratulate Don Hinderliter. We are proud to partner with Don when the LSG Family of Entities are involved in high profile corporate restructurings. It is always a pleasure working with Don to achieve the best possible outcomes.
Recognized as a top firm for client service, BakerHostetler helps businesses around the world address critical business and regulatory issues. With six core practice groups—business, litigation, tax, digital assets & data management, intellectual property, and labor & employment—the firm has nearly 1,000 lawyers located coast to coast. bakerlaw.com