Chad Walker understands the value of creating and maintaining relationships. The vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary of Morton Salt says it’s invaluable as he helps the company refresh its culture and prepare to relocate to a new corporate headquarters.
Morton hired Walker in May 2015, as relocation of its main offices to a new tower along the Chicago River in downtown Chicago was already underway.
“My role was more advising, observing, and providing any kind of advice I could to ensure we are productive and can function at an optimal level on day one in our new corporate headquarters,” Walker says.
Relocation occurred as the company implemented a business and cultural-transformation strategy that included the launch of its new company values, as well as a brand refresh that aligned with the 100th anniversary of its Morton Salt Girl logo in 2014. Morton signed a sixteen-year lease to occupy its new 52,600-square-foot, two-floor space in Chicago’s West Loop, bringing together nearly 400 employees.
The new corporate headquarters has an open-floor concept with no offices or cubicles. Even CEO Christian Herrmann will sit at a desk right out in the open.
Yet Walker found himself in a bind. Although he fully supports a cultural shift and the promise of collaboration that a true open-office layout brings, his legal department manages confidential and sensitive information on a routine basis. Walker voiced his concerns to Herrmann, who completely understood.
“It’s not intuitive to everyone why the legal department has to be isolated to make sure we can provide a protected and privileged environment when necessary,” Walker says. “At the end of the day, we have to make sure we can assess risk, protect the integrity of the company, and provide counsel to our business segments.”
The pair worked together and came up with an effective compromise: The Morton legal team will sit in a relatively isolated corner adjacent to a conference room, where they can still collaborate, but also keep confidential matters separate.
“I have to make sure the lawyers on my team are able to advise the business and act quickly,” Walker says. “More often than not, time is of the essence, so I don’t want to have them running around to find a conference room. We need to be where we have easy access to a private area so we can move in and out of seamlessly.”
Privacy, however, goes beyond removing cubicle walls. Walker says he and his team need to behave differently than they would if they were in a traditional office, and he advised his legal team—as well as the executive leadership team—to be more mindful of how they communicate, even down to their body language.
“It’s healthy to have a good dialogue when discussing ways to help drive the business, and sometimes it can be animated and emotional,” he says. “With this new transparency comes more visibility. People can read your body language and easily misconstrue that things are not moving in the right direction. We have to learn to operate a lot differently. It will be an ongoing adjustment for us.”
If anyone can drive that change, it’s Walker, whose extensive experience with McDonald’s Corporation primed him for working across different departments.
At McDonald’s, he served as assistant US general counsel, overseeing the negotiation of leases and acquisition of real estate for the construction and rebuilding of new restaurants in the United States. He also served as primary counsel to regional leadership for all legal matters relating to franchising, operations, real estate development, compliance, contracts, and many other areas that impact the McDonald’s business.
“McDonald’s is a relationship-based company that prides itself on the relationship among its employees, suppliers, and franchisees,” Walker says. “It’s worked for many years and it remains central to its core of what makes it successful. When I came to Morton, I brought with me the importance of building relationships.”
He started applying those skills by building strong ties with the CEO and executive leadership. Walker continues to foster open lines of communication between executives and his legal team as well as Morton employees across its twenty-three facilities in the United States, Canada, and the Bahamas.
“We want employees to feel they can come to us, and that we’re not in this bubble they don’t have access to,” Walker says.
Not only will the move foster internal changes, but it will change the way the company is perceived externally as well. Morton’s aim is not only to serve its employees better, but also to become an employer of choice in the job market.
Walker has also successfully changed the overall approach of Morton’s legal team to make it more effective at protecting the company and facilitating growth. Walker says that before he joined Morton, it was understaffed, and the lawyers were reacting to the changing needs of the business, waiting for problems to come to them before taking action.
“That is contrary to how I operate,” Walker says, adding that he changed its model to a legal business partner model: He grew the team, embedding lawyers within different segments of the business so these segments would have a designated contact. “These contacts not only help them address the legal needs of the business, but also provide quality business counsel.”
Each Morton lawyer is ingrained in the segment they advise.
“You can’t put a price tag on what it means to have an iconic brand,” Walker says. “It takes years to build that loyalty, awareness, and credibility in the marketplace, but it only takes a split second to tarnish it.”
That’s why Walker has made sure that his team understands what it means to be a part of the brand.
“We are ambassadors of our brand, not only when we come to work Monday through Friday, but also on the weekends when we are shopping or on the sidelines at our kids’ soccer games,” he says. “It’s always with you.”
That’s why Walker intends to keep applying all his skills to protect it.