It’s not as though Kelvin Sellers wasn’t interested in having the legal expertise that he currently exhibits at Interstate Batteries. Rather, it’s that his interests initially leaned toward accounting. And the law came later—much later.
Self-described as “tremendously analytical and process-oriented,” it makes sense that Sellers gravitated toward accounting as an undergrad at the University of Texas at Arlington. Once he narrowed his focus to corporate accounting—digging into a five-year program that allowed him to get his bachelor’s and master’s degrees simultaneously (the latter in taxation, he says, because “I love a good challenge”)—he got started at Deloitte’s Dallas office upon graduation. Before long, he was invited to be part of the firm’s international tax group, which got him involved with tax planning rather than tax returns. That put him in close proximity with attorneys, and that’s when another career possibility suddenly clicked.
“They really energized me,” Sellers says. “Then one day, I was just haphazardly going back to my desk thinking, ‘This LSAT deal—yeah, I think I’ll sign up for that.’” He took the test a few months later and started at Columbia Law School in 2002. Upon returning to Dallas with his degree in 2005, Sellers litigated at a private firm before serving in state and local tax capacities for another private firm. He served at the latter for the better portion of two years when a recruiter approached him about working for Interstate Batteries.
“The interesting thing was that the opening Interstate had was originally a tax accountant position,” Sellers recalls. “I decided I wanted to see how they valued my unique skill set in a tax-type role.” And value it they did. Sellers was hired for a tax counsel/tax manager role in October 2008, then promoted to director of Interstate’s legal department just eighteen months later. While the company’s tax and finance department is a separate entity and Sellers’s CPA status is decidedly in the background now (“I’m not ostentatious about it; that’s why I can be working with someone and they don’t realize it”), his pedigree remains a powerful asset that helps him ensure business grow. That comes in addition to preserving Interstate’s brand by way of compliance.
“With me, you have someone who’ll say, ‘This is an accounting concern. We need to pause and explore this further with our CFO or our controller,’” Sellers says. “Or, I might say, ‘By making this move, we may be limiting our opportunities to take certain tax advantage positions in the future, so let’s pause and bring in our tax group.’ So this really adds a different view to our strategic approach and our tactical approach. It opens our eyes a little bit more.”
Legal strategies may appear to be cut-and-dried when the business at hand involves the number one replacement battery in North America, but appearances are deceiving. Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) issues and transactions, environmental matters, employment matters, and intellectual property issues all share the stage with the various technology and supplier agreements at Interstate. And when you factor in Interstate’s expansions to Central America, South America, and China, it’s easy to see how Sellers’s relatively small team—around a half-dozen among Interstate’s worldwide staff of 1,500—seldom have a dull moment.
“What I think is compelling about my story is not the what, but the why I’m doing it, and the how. And I cannot extricate Interstate from my own evolution.”
But what appealed most to Sellers when he came to Interstate was its mission statement—now known as its purpose statement. “The first mission emphasized glorifying God,” he says. “That opened my eyes to a ton of potential opportunity.”
From a for-profit business perspective, this translates into what he calls conscious capitalism: a commitment to improved self-awareness and aligning with a higher purpose that influences how Interstate’s leaders interface with others. To that end, CEO Scott Miller has the company’s top leaders take on a year-long Integral Leadership Program, as well.
“We emphasize service for leadership,” Sellers says. “Our values, which I think are unique for a for-profit company, include love, excellence, a servant’s heart, courage, team, fun, and integrity. And there’s a full expectation that our leaders demonstrate that. That really impacts how I go about my practice and how I lead and develop my team.”
“It’s important to know that we’re strategic advisers,” Sellers continues. “There is some tension the law has with business sometimes. There’s the impression that the law is an impediment to the sales world, and we’re sensitive to that. But our role is to help the business conquer the strategic and daily objectives. So what we’re doing on a daily basis is figuring out innovative solutions to get us to where we want and need to be.”
Recent years have seen the efforts of Sellers recognized in unique ways, most notably in D CEO Magazine and by Dallas’ Association of Corporate Counsel. But far beyond the accolades, and the love of the work itself, is the satisfaction he says he’s found in what Sellers calls “a life that’s a lot less me-centric.” This parallels another element of Interstate’s purpose: enriching the lives of others.
The sense of balance Sellers now has between his various work and passions in life is never taken for granted. “What I think is compelling about my story is not the what, but the why I’m doing it, and the how,” Sellers explains. “And I cannot extricate Interstate from my own evolution.”