Keep It Open, Keep It Safe

Tricon’s Bryan Elwood shares how he keeps his company compliant on any continent

When Bryan Elwood speaks, he lists some of the challenges of his role at Tricon with the same excitement someone else may exude when listing the perks. Since 2011, the vice president and general counsel has watched the Houston-based international chemical supplier and trading company triple its volume and expand into several new countries. With a résumé that emphasizes the “international” in “international trade,” Elwood says that the ambitious and upbeat attitude felt at Tricon is what keeps his role not only interesting, but also a source of pride for his legal department in helping to manage risk and keep the company moving at the speed of business.

The sheer scope of his position makes every day uniquely intense. He may be dealing with Kazakhstan in the morning, Uruguay over lunch, and then India in the afternoon.

“It’s a very internationally driven business,” Elwood explains. “It thrives on opening new markets so the constant challenge is to keep the legal aspects up to speed of business.”

The speed of business at Tricon provides his legal team with a particularly formidable challenge. “What makes this company unique, and this experience so valuable, is the speed of growth of this company,” Elwood says. “We’ve never stopped hiring.” In fact, Tricon went from processing five million tons of product to fifteen million since Elwood began in 2011. That means that, while his legal team has grown modestly, they are constantly looking for ways to streamline efficiency and to do more with less. His team, made up of four lawyers and a compliance specialist, were responsible for the processing of between thirty and forty thousand contracts last year alone.

Elwood and his team currently spend a great deal of their time working to standardize contracts in order to avoid international confusion. Different laws in different countries mean contracts can quickly get caught up in semantics. Elwood says that the more familiar they are with their own contract, the easier it is for them to adapt and standardize the new contracts that come their way. Contracts that adhere to strict standards help ensure Tricon’s ability to operate at the speed of business.

Interpreting the trade laws of the countless countries in which Tricon does business is one of the more challenging aspects of Elwood’s position. “One of the success points of an international trading company is to have a smart multidisciplinary, multinational legal team,” Elwood says. “They work together with a successful legal network, where you can reach out and coordinate with a lawyer effectively in any country to quickly resolve an issue.” That network is key to not only keeping Tricon compliant, but also to better understand the culture of its trading partners.

Tricon’s “refreshing idea of risk in a new market” and its willingness to expand is a major reason why Elwood loves his job. “How do we get bigger? How do we get stronger? How do we sell more? It’s refreshing for an attorney to participate in that activity and provide the support that is needed for that to happen,” Elwood says.

“If the work is being done properly, you hopefully don’t see us. Legal comes in when there’s a problem, so we try and avoid the problem.”

Providing support can sometimes be tough for general counsel, Elwood says, because of the breadth of questions he often encounters. “The role of counsel is to be a general doctor, but good GC will bring forth the expert advice it needs at the right time.”

The fast-paced and motivated attitude at Tricon is what Elwood says makes him and his team strive to be the best they can be. His role inherently means he has to be looking for flaws and potential problems, and that’s not always the voice that everyone is looking forward to hearing.

“You have to try to explain what can go wrong, then provide solutions and the options available,” he says. “It’s a critical component of a solidly growing firm.”

Elwood has the experience to know. Born and schooled in Mexico, Elwood was introduced to international trading and investments while working on behalf of the Mexican government, first with foreign investments in Mexico, and then in Washington, DC, during the drafting and first implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. He then became trade counsel and diplomat for the Mexican Minister of Trade. “That gave me an interesting focus—the focus of being in the capital as a person working for a government in international trade and investment issues,” he says.

Elwood believes that working in the trenches of international trade matters and seeing both the United States’ and Mexico’s approach to these issues was invaluable. From there, he racked up an impressive résumé that includes virtually every possible angle of international trade, be it government, private, or the constant intersection of the two. He was selected to be a member of the official NAFTA roster of experts that can be called upon to resolve unfair trade disputes between nations.

When asked to recount his proudest accomplishment, Elwood laughs. “If the work is being done properly, you hopefully don’t see us. Legal comes in when there’s a problem, so we try and avoid the problem,” he says. So, then, Elwood’s greatest accomplishments are often what didn’t happen.

Still, Elwood’s pride is inherent when he recounts the changes that have taken place since coming to Tricon. “I think it’s an amazing opportunity to start from this little company and have it become a real player out there,” he says.

That success comes from constantly reminding himself of his main job: Keep the company safe, and do it by being clear and concise. “It hasn’t been an easy road, but I am glad for where the company is and how I’ve helped to put it there,” he says.

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Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP:

“Bryan Elwood is a gifted lawyer with a wealth of legal experience in the US and Mexico. His unique cross-border capabilities enable him to provide practical, efficient solutions to complex multinational corporate legal issues.”

—Antonio M. Prida, Partner