With nearly 6,800 employees, plants in Brazil, the US, Europe, the Middle East, and China, and active operations in 120 different countries, Vienna-based Borealis Group is a worldwide purveyor of polyolefin, base chemical, and fertilizer solutions. The necessity for global communication and interaction is absolutely fundamental—and one that General Counsel Katja Tautscher nurtures with her team of twenty-five, including remote employees who work in locations all over the world. Initially driven to pursue a career as a professional cellist, Tautscher put down the bow to better study the letter of the law and is now helping Borealis stay connected, effective, and globally conscious.
Maintaining cohesion can be tough for Tautscher’s global team members, many of whom are the only legal personnel on-site. “It’s really important to give those members of my team the feeling of belonging,” Tauscher says. “I give them more one-on-one time and am very conscious of those remote high performers when it comes to considering promotions.”
Tautscher has had ample opportunity to foster her team’s sense of belonging since joining Borealis in 2008. Prior to her tenure at the company, she spent her early career working in various law firms based in Europe. “I really learned the nuts and bolts of how to be a good lawyer,” Tautscher says. “But that included the stress and hard work that comes with it.” The GC jokes that her general stress level was cut in half the day she decided to go in-house, as the job seemed a much more suitable fit.
In was in her first in-house role that Tautscher says she found a mentor in her general counsel, who demonstrated the type of leadership that most appealed to her. “He was a real leader who provided such good support,” Tautscher says. “It taught me that in coming from an organization where I was a fee earner to coming in-house in a support function, you really had to learn to be part of a team. Otherwise, you’re just a cost factor.”
That transition can be a very tricky one to navigate, the GC believes. “You have to be humble and listen carefully to what is actually being asked of you,” Tautscher says. “Don’t overestimate the importance of your role. If you do these things, people will start to come to you.” The lawyer jokes that in the firm world, it’s easy for lawyers to become convinced that they’re “God’s gift to mankind,” but that sort of ego just isn’t possible if you want to be an effective in-house counsel.
Tautscher’s own legal team has been busy on a joint venture between Borealis, Nova Chemicals, and Total. The new company, called Bayport Polymers, includes an ethane steam cracker in Port Arthur, Texas; an existing polyethylene unit; and a new Borstar polyethylene unit in Bayport, Texas.
“It’s been years of negotiating agreements,” Tautscher says. “Now it’s finally done, and we’re in the part of the process where we’re actually able to see things get built. Seeing that progress from the legal perspective is something that makes us quite proud.”
“We have developed the reputation that people want to work for us, and that is something I can feel quite proud about.”
As a producer of proliferates of plastics, Tautscher says Borealis is working hard on sustainability efforts, including methods to combat maritime littering. Over the last three years, Borealis purchased two recycling plants in Germany and Austria, respectively, that it is currently working to integrate. These acquisitions, together with projects such as STOP—which creates environmentally friendly, cost-effective waste systems to reduce plastic in the ocean—are efforts to bring sustainability to the forefront of its practices. “This is something that I can proudly tell my child about,” Tautscher says.
The GC also expressed pride that she has had the opportunity to promote women to positions of senior leadership and recognize younger female professionals with promise. A focus on family has helped shape a more progressive-minded culture at Borealis. “This may be more relevant for Europe, but ensuring that both women and men can back into senior positions after returning from maternity and paternity leave without being concerned is something that is highly recognized and valued at the company,” Tautscher asserts.
The wider progressive culture at the company has helped establish Borealis as a place where high performers want to work, and Tautscher says it’s obvious when she is hiring for a new role. “We don’t overpay and probably can’t compete with larger firms in that regard, but we have developed the reputation that people want to work for us, and that is something I can feel quite proud about.”
Tautscher says that while her overall happiness is often channeled through the accomplishments of her seven-year-old son, she knows she has been successful in her own GC role because of those who stop by her office uninvited. “I am regarded as a trusted advisor and a go-to person for many things that aren’t strictly related to my role,” Tautscher says. “I don’t just wear the legal hat here, and it’s something I really enjoy and makes my job quite interesting.”
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pitman LLP:
“Katja is one of the most impressive GCs I know, combining top-tier legal skills with strong leadership and emotional intelligence in a demanding global and multicultural corporation. It is an honour to be a trusted adviser.”