Chad Walker has never been a company’s first general counsel. He’s held GC roles at larger companies such as Morton Salt, where he was also vice president and corporate secretary. Walker joined Duravant in June 2022, and while the company was founded in 2013, it had no internal legal function until he came on board.
Now, it’s Walker’s to build as Duravant’s senior vice president and general counsel.
“This is an opportunity to create my own path,” he says. “I’ve been part of a mega-legal department, I’ve built out a legal department from a tiny team and now, at the moment, it’s just me. Let’s see what we can do.”
Walker has the experience, but he gives himself progressively complex situations in which he must find a way to flourish. Had he not done this a few times over, there might be room for concern.
Walker’s longest tenure thus far was nine-and-a-half years under the golden arches of McDonald’s, where he was promoted every other year—all the way up to US assistant general counsel. He was surrounded by some of the sharpest legal and business minds, leaders, and lawyers whose passion for their work left a lasting mark on the future GC.
“McDonald’s was my entry into corporate America, working for one of the most recognizable brands on the planet,” Walker says. “The size and scale of that global company was an incredible place to build relationships, learn the business, and see incredible leadership in action.”
When Walker transitioned to Morton Salt in 2015, it was with the intention of taking over for a GC who had been with the organization for over two decades. At the time, Morton’s CEO was looking for some new blood who could manage legal and compliance while reaching further across the organization to connect directly with the company’s business. It was how Walker was used to working already.
The challenge at Morton was building out a legal team that began as just him and one other lawyer. While expanding the team, Walker learned how to effectively manage outside counsel, a skill that would be critical for his next role.
Duravant is Walker’s chance to do it all again, and with even fewer nets. He arrived at Duravant with no legal department, no infrastructure—even outside counsel billing was relegated to other parts of the business. One year has gone by in an instant, and Walker’s efforts continue at high speed.
The learning curve for both Walker and his company has been a steep one. “Duravant never had a GC, and there was no lead to follow,” he explains. “A lot of what I’m building here is being done for the first time, and so while you’re looking to provide value for the business, you’re also trying to educate the organization about your role.”
Walker says it’s an extremely novel proposition: make a case for every idea and spend, while also helping the broader organization understand exactly what value he provides. This is not a normal GC role, but that’s the challenge that attracted the leader in the first place.
Along with building out the entire legal function, he’s also helping to build out Durvant’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategy. One of the company’s owners, the Carlyle Group, has a well-established ESG team in place that has been especially helpful in helping Walker begin Duravant’s own journey.
“We’re working to engrain ESG into our DNA,” the GC says. “That starts with KPIs, reporting, and then building on that performance. We’ve put in a lot of building blocks, and part of my job is to keep that momentum going. Given we have sixteen different operating companies, that’s a lot of momentum to drive.”
This might read as a nightmare scenario for lawyers unaccustomed to building from the ground up. Walker, with the exception of support from his network of outside counsel, is a one-man army at present. But the GC seems undeterred. To him, it’s simply part of the process, a process of which very few people get the opportunity to experience the early stages.
Walker still finds time outside this challenging role to dedicate to his children’s activities. If he’s not building out a legal department, he can be seen on the sideline of his kids’ games. He says it keeps him young, and it’s a good thing, because his current calendar seems full for the foreseeable future.
Duravant will be Walker’s latest success. It’s just going to take some time.