As I read about a United States Senator calling for the firing of Michael Milliken, GM’s general counsel, I am not thinking about Milliken. I don’t know Milliken and I’m not qualified to judge his performance. Instead, my friend Jeff Carr came immediately to mind. Jeff retires on Aug. 1 from FMC Technologies after 21 years with the company. And what I am thinking is that GM needed its own Jeff Carr.
To in-house counsel who read the trade press and to us legal consulting types who follow innovation within “law world,” Jeff was a “thought leader” long before that term became fashionable. And most of us expect Jeff to re-emerge in a unique way within law world after taking some personal time. Jeff innovates internally; examples include his ACES model for engaging outside counsel and creating an efficient “One Degree Law” structure for serving his company. Jeff helped create a more collaborative way to engage recruiting services that I wrote about in InsideCounsel. But Jeff also shares his innovations externally, giving graciously of his time. Examples here include Advisory Board service for InsideCounsel’s Superconference, board service with Association of Corporate Counsel, The General Counsel Forum, and numerous conference panel speaking appearances.
None of that is why Jeff came to mind when I read about GM’s continuing political and legal troubles. What came to mind was a legal department retreat Jeff ran shortly after hiring three attorneys in 2011. More specifically, I recall passionate presentations by both Jeff and his CEO on the topic of what it takes to maintain a continual “zero defect culture.” FMC Technologies manufactures complex subsea equipment used by companies that produce oil from deep sea wells. What are the implications of a broken seal here, or a poor weld there?
As a service provider, the message hit me like a ton of bricks. Sure, alternative fee structures and process improvement yield cost savings. But cost savings is an ancillary benefit to doing things as well as you can figure out how to do them. Cost savings is not the driving force behind innovation. Helpful process improvement is driven by a more noble purpose: safety. And, get this, law departments are more than a reactionary damage control function when something goes wrong. With proper leadership, a law department really can set a tone at the top and get in front of problems before they occur.
So yes, every company would benefit from a general counsel who thinks a bit like Jeff Carr. To Jeff, I say congratulations and a very public thank you. Along with support from your lieutenants Yngve Larsen, Jim Sullivan and Mark Wolf, we were able to place the last four attorneys who joined your team: Lisa Wang, Abimbola Bukoye, Jeff Palmer and Philip Kief. Business from FMC Technologies, and your support specifically, means a great deal to our firm and it has helped shape my career. Along with the rest of law world, I look forward to seeing what you choose to do down the road. Shorter term, please enjoy your time without spreadsheets or conference calls.