Doug Beck moved around a lot as a kid. Born in the western suburbs of Chicago, Beck moved to Kentucky, New Jersey, then back to Chicago, then on to Tennessee and Nevada during childhood, thanks to his father’s job as a technology executive for various companies. But Beck always felt most at home in the Windy City.
An avid reader and writer who wanted to utilize those skills within a respected profession, Beck decided early on he would become a lawyer. So when it came time to go to college, he stayed in Illinois—attending University of Illinois, Champaign. “I knew back then I would go to law school, so U of I was not only a great school to prepare me for that, it also was a state school with reasonable tuition. Ultimately it was law school that would determine future opportunities,” Beck explained.
Graduating from U of I after only three years and getting into Northwestern University School of Law, he decided to take a year and move to Ecuador, where he taught English. After he graduated from law school, Beck joined Seyfarth Shaw as a litigation associate—launching the career that would one day land him in the GC seat of Hub Group, one of the country’s largest freight transportation management companies.
Please tell me about your career path immediately after law school?
At Seyfarth, I had a commercial litigation practice and I enjoyed it. But I quickly decided that being a partner at a big law firm was not what I wanted to do when I grew up. It wasn’t immediately obvious to me that I would be successful. You had to get a book of business, and I wasn’t quite sure how to do that. Maybe I could have, but it wasn’t obvious and billing my time was not something I enjoyed.
So you went in-house?
Yes, eventually. I was a 5th year associate when I left Seyfarth and went in-house. My first in-house job was with a client. I knew the in-house lawyers because I worked with them. So when this company—Allegiance, which was a spinoff of Baxter—had an opening, they called me in and asked if I was interested.
In that position, we had a lot of mass tort litigation and that was what I was involved with. Going in-house, I was instantly in the small group of people who were making the strategic decisions for that litigation. As an outside lawyer, I was handling discovery, then a week later as in-house counsel, I had a seat at the table in strategy meetings. It seemed like an opportunity to leap frog multiple years I would have spent in a law firm and get into interesting work I couldn’t have if I stayed on that career path.
What type of work did you do specifically with Allegiance?
I got involved in managing litigation and figuring out defense and settlement strategy. I also handled a lot of legislative and lobbying work.
One of our products, latex gloves, generated a lot of litigation. The lawsuits were filed by healthcare workers claiming they were made allergic to latex because the gloves had too many allergens. We had maybe 500 cases, and then legislators were starting to introduce legislation to ban latex gloves. At that time, I got involved in a lot of lobbying at state and federal levels. I ended up meeting with a lot of state legislators and some federal officials.
The interesting thing in politics is that the states are kind of like the farm teams for Washington. One of the people I dealt with was Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who has a son allergic to latex. I met with him early on when he was Rhode Island’s attorney general, and he later got elected to the Senate. It’s interesting to see how people develop.
Didn’t you meet with someone even more notable that Mr. Whitehouse?
Yes, I did. I met with Barack Obama in Springfield, Ill., when he was on the Illinois Senate’s Health Committee.
Bills banning latex gloves normally went before the health committee. We met with legislators that were important on our issues. So we hired local lobbyists in various states to help us figure out who we needed to talk to, to get our point across. And in Illinois, that happened to include Barack Obama.
From what I could tell, Obama had no staff. He was basically answering his own phone. And even at the time, without knowing he would become president, the meeting stood out. Our typical legislative meeting would take about 45 minutes, and it was a very well honed pitch we were making. We would say, “A leads to B leads to C. So vote against the bill.” But with Obama, the meeting took 20 minutes because after we got through A, he immediately knew it led to C. He stood out as being smarter than your average guy. And a few years later, he was elected president of the U.S.
What was your next career move?
Allegiance was a fun job, but it was geographically inconvenient as it was located in Waukegan, Ill., and I was living with my wife in Chicago. She was working downtown but ended up taking a job in Downers Grove. Then we had our daughter, and the commutes weren’t working too well for anyone.
So I learned of an opening at Navistar, a U.S.-based truck manufacturer, which had just moved to the western suburb of Warrenville. Now my wife and I both worked in the western suburbs, so we moved to Naperville.
At Navistar, I was able to diversify and branch out from just managing litigation. I got transactional experience. I worked with Curt Kramer, who is currently associate GC at Navistar, on a few deals: stock purchase agreements and asset agreements. I managed litigation but also got the opportunity to deal with a variety of legal matters that came through the door.
So was Hub Group next?
Well, first I went to Alberto-Culver, a manufacturer of beauty products based in Melrose Park, Illinois. It offered me a chance to broaden even further. I provided legal advice to the HR group and was working with the company’s board of directors. It was nice, and I was slotted in as the successor to the GC there. It allowed me to step up my experience. It was going very well.
Then at the end of 2010, Alberto-Culver announced it was selling itself to Unilever. The deal went through in 2011. The best case scenario was that I was I would get a job with Unilever in New Jersey and the worst was I would not get the job in New Jersey. So at that point, when the Alberto job in Illinois was ending, I was able to land the Assistant GC job here at Hub.
I was second in command and the rest of the law department reported to me. It was right here in the western suburbs of Chicago. At the end of last year, my boss left the company. At that point, Hub offered me the opportunity to be the interim GC. They did not do a search. It was my opportunity to show them I could be their GC. In July, I was promoted fully to general counsel. I’m very grateful for the opportunity.
Please tell me a little about your legal department. How many lawyers and legal staff do you have? Has it changed much since you joined?
It’s still the same structure since I took over six months ago. I have a deputy GC who reports to me. Then there are three lawyers and a non-lawyer who does contracts and helps with litigation, all of whom report into my deputy GC. The HR and compliance organizations report to me as well.
How do you add talent to your legal department?
Carefully and thoughtfully. We typically will post positions and in recent years, we have gotten highly qualified applicants and have been able to hire that way. In the past, we have had some positions where we didn’t see the quality of talent we were hoping for. We created a position in 2011, and we hired a lawyer who I became acquainted with through Evers Legal.
Thank you for using the Evers Legal insourcing service. What are your suggestions to other General Counsel for how to best use adjunct counsel within your law department?”
I think it’s a good way to fill a need that you know you have but don’t know if it’ll be a permanent need. Here at Hub, we’re cautious before we create new positions. The last thing you want is to over hire. It can be a way to address a need while figuring out if it’s permanent or temporary.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your legal department?
It’s an ever-changing compliance environment. The law is not static. The law is dynamic. Something that is accepted as legal and permissible might change and might not be in the future.
Staying on top of legal developments and the legal environment is challenging. You can’t simply accept the fact that because something was OK before, it’s OK now. You’re always trying to anticipate where things will be in the future to make sure you’re where you need to be in the present.
What do you love most about being a lawyer?
I like helping people solve problems. What we do is deal with problems. I like to work with people, solve their problems and, if I do my job right, add value to their business.
Please tell me about the mentors you had growing up in your legal career.
I’ve had a number of more senior lawyers who have taught me not just about the law, but also about how to be a good lawyer. For example, a partner that I worked with at Seyfarth was always calm and intelligent and never wasted time or energy. He focused on the things that mattered and figured those things out, and implemented a strategy to solve those problems. That resonated with me and I really looked up to him for that.
What advice would you give a young lawyer who wants to be senior in-house counsel in a company someday?
Diversify. There are some people who like staying in a comfort zone. And that’s fine, but that’s not going to allow you to be a GC. The “G” in GC stands for “general,” which means you have to be a generalist. As a GC, by definition, you need to be prepared to deal with all of the legal and compliance issues that come up. You don’t get to choose which ones you are comfortable dealing with.
Develop a broad base of experience, and even then, you won’t know everything you need to know. You need to be inquisitive and to figure out what you need to know to deal with the problem. You can get help as new matters come up, but you have to be comfortable owning all the legal issues.
And finally, rumor has it you spend your spare time enjoying your hobby of flying. How did you get into it and how does it parallel your career?
I have a friend who owns his own airplane. He managed Alberto-Culver’s plant in Los Angeles and he was my client when I worked there. He mentioned that he was a pilot. On my visits to LA, he took me up in his airplane and I loved it. One time we took off from LA and two hours later, we were flying through Yosemite Valley. On the way home, we landed at a steakhouse with its own private runway and had dinner. It was then that I decided I wanted to learn to fly. I got my private pilot certificate in 2009 and my instrument rating in 2011. Flying is demanding and rewarding, a little like practicing law.