Victaulic’s Collaborative Approach

Mark Van De Voorde explains why teamwork is essential when helping to lead a global company

Considering his preference for working with a well-tuned local team, it may be somewhat surprising to learn that Mark Van De Voorde has lived his entire life on a global scale.

As the son of Belgian parents, he spent his childhood traveling the world with home bases in the United States and Belgium. Utilizing both law and business degrees, Van De Voorde began his career in international finance, focusing on mergers and acquisitions, strategic tax structures, and advising on financial and capital transactions. For a time, he was the managing director of the global corporate finance advisory team for Barclays Capital in London.

He currently serves as both chief legal and administrative officer for Victaulic, a rapidly growing global company and leader in grooved mechanical pipe-joining solutions. Operating fifteen major manufacturing facilities and employing more than 3,600 employees in one hundred-plus countries, the company holds more than 1,600 current patents. This includes design patents in forty-seven countries and utility patents in thirty.

Despite its large corporate size, Victaulic’s in-house legal team is remarkably small. Aside from Van De Voorde, there is one attorney focused on intellectual property; another who attends to corporate development and growth; and a third who oversees contracts, as well as other issues such as litigation and statutory filings. With just an additional two paralegals and an executive secretary, the in-house team manages to keep the international operations on track and on course.

The small size of the legal team doesn’t necessarily bother Van De Voorde, as he and his team pride themselves on building a strong work ethic founded on outstanding team work. The legal team does have other help, though, as well. Rather than create an extensive “in-house legal department” populated by a cadre of employee lawyers stretched across the company’s various jurisdictions, Van De Voorde preferred to create an array of capable and trusted regional counsel teams in key jurisdictions where the enterprise does business. This structure allows for better internal cost controls and also ensures that the best available local talent manages locally situated concerns. Considering that each country in which Victaulic operates mandates its own unique and territorial set of rules, laws, compliance requirements, and standards, having that local input and direction is critical in responding appropriately to local needs.

The volume and complexity of the business doesn’t faze Van De Voorde, either. In his dual administrative and legal role, his goals are to grow revenue and enable personnel. To accomplish those ends, his teamwork approach eliminates silos.

“I prefer to assemble the best team for the issue at hand with the purpose of paving the clearest path possible to success, while also ridding the road ahead of obstacles and distractions.”

Van De Voorde says, citing regulatory matters, statutory filings, and litigation concerns as some common examples.

By having trusted team members in every Victaulic jurisdiction, Van De Voorde can respond to any issues that arise, whenever they occur, anywhere in the world. What he can’t promise, however, is an instant response. For most inquiries, his usual response is: “I don’t know the answer to your question, but I do know who to ask and will get back to you as soon as I have the answer(s).”

In his position as top legal advisor to a multinational corporation (MNC), Van De Voorde is a member of a unique community that interacts daily at the highest levels of the global market economy. There are now thousands of MNCs doing business across international borders, and each of these entities requires legal counsel for every decision in each market.

The challenges faced by this specialized guild of international lawyers are unprecedented. Every day, each one must respond to the political unrest, social upheaval, and natural disasters that threaten to intervene in or end altogether corporate activities. Further, they must manage these events while at the same time juggling international law and industrial compliance standards, along with the convolutions that occur among those multiple overarching bodies of rules.

Not surprisingly, these MNC attorneys meet on a regular basis to discuss their challenges and seek relevant input and solutions. Since many are members of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), they welcome new insights and learn from each other’s experiences. In this setting, Van De Voorde has shared his teamwork approach with other members of the ACC, where it has resonated with senior MNC attorneys.

Van De Voorde has pondered in these discussions the possibility of developing a more formalized “Global Counsel” organization “that would include sharing data, insights, successes, and failures through more formal methods.” The purpose would be to further everyone’s business goals without adding unnecessary competition and to take advantage of the group’s collective experience on a global level. For example, he cites the European Economic Community and how it shares its data through relationships across European boundaries. He also authored a paper on the theory, “MNCs and the GC—Why it Really Means Global Counsel,” published by the International In-House Counsel Journal in 2016.

From his lifelong perspective as a global citizen, Van De Voorde does believe there is merit in an international legal body that advises industries as well as governments. Such a group does not yet exist, however, and Van De Voorde is content with his position in a successful MNC and in his relationships with his tight group of trusted colleagues. And, although he is somewhat interested in pursuing the idea of a global counsel organization, he can think of a few other special people who might be more appropriate to take the lead in developing it. Perhaps a team?

POWERFUL ACHIEVEMENTS

With placing such a high value on teamwork, Mark Van De Voorde cites his inclusion in the leadership team at Victaulic as one of his most prized achievements. He thoroughly enjoys the relationships he has built with his legal teams, the company’s management, and members of its board of directors.

On a professional level, he is equally proud of Victaulic’s notable victory in its lawsuit against AIG insurance. After twenty-plus years of a comfortable business relationship between the two companies, relations suddenly went sour in 2012. With no notice or advance discussions, the insurer sued Victaulic, seeking a determination that AIG had no duty under the insurance contract to provide coverage for product liability claims. The suit ended up being all the more surprising considering that AIG had been providing such coverage—and defending liability claims—throughout the twenty-year association.

It isn’t surprising that Victaulic won. What was surprising, however, was the award. As compensatory damages, the court awarded the company a little more than $55 million, including more than $9 million in Brandt fees. For punitive damages, the court awarded roughly $46 million.

With the victory, Victaulic establishes itself not only as the world leader in pipe-joining systems, but also as a staunch defender of a fair and honest marketplace.

Van De Voorde’s article on Victaulic’s defense strategy in the AIG case is published by the International In-House Counsel Journal, Vol. 9, Num. 36, Summer 2016.