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When Dr. Benjamin Gündling was sixteen, the German Basketball Association allowed him the chance to travel around Japan as part of an international exchange program and stay with multiple families for several weeks each in locales ranging from rural farms to city centers. Gündling, a native German, was often unable to communicate with his hosts directly, but it didn’t deter him in the least.
“It gave a young man both an appreciation for an entirely different culture and a higher appreciation for my own,” Gündling remembers. “I think it encouraged a humility in me that has helped me connect with different cultures and made me adaptable in new places.”
Since first going in-house in 2007 as divisional counsel for an automotive business, the US and German licensed attorney has filled multiple roles within Freudenberg, ranging from serving as commercial global lead counsel for Freudenberg’s medical and consumer businesses to his current leadership in corporate and M&A and the e-mobility business in the Americas.
The accomplished lawyer has stayed at Freudenberg because he has had the chance to tackle M&A and new business development from virtually every possible perspective, aiding the continuing evolution of a company that initially began as a leather tannery (and now includes chemical, medical, aerospace, automotive, e-mobility, and a medical business) that was founded and remains family-owned since 1849.
Gündling’s tenure with Freudenberg began in Germany, but one of his biggest successes to date came when he first accepted a role that would land him in the US. The lawyer was asked to help establish a regional legal function and evolve a burgeoning medical business from a division to a standalone global business group. Gündling did what he does best: he helped Freudenberg go on an acquisition spree of about a dozen separate businesses over a handful years that would become the Freudenberg Medical powerhouse of today.
Critical for the long-term success was providing the legal framework for the careful execution of a mindful post-merger integration strategy: forming of sustainable long-term customer relationships, balanced risk mitigation and compliance standards, and retaining innovators and key personnel as well as the attraction of talent.
A significant number of M&A projects for which Gündling provided legal support come in the way of bolt-on acquisitions, a typically smaller or mid-market company whose integration doesn’t require extension retooling for either organization. That isn’t to say it’s easy, especially given Freudenberg’s appetite for growing its handprint and footprint in sustainable ways.
“We’re always looking for new products, new innovations, smaller companies, or larger standalone future businesses that make sense to strategically add to our existing portfolio,” Gündling explains. “It might help us further diversify or grow into a new market, and that mentality is why we have been able to grow into so many different industries. It’s fun work for me.”
One aspect of Gündling’s M&A work is the creation of carve-outs in line with one of Freudenberg’s guiding principles.
“We don’t make products that harm people and stay away from business that is environmentally not sustainable,” the lawyer explains. “If we’re acquiring a portfolio that might include anything of that nature, we may carve it out or elect not to acquire that business.”
Some of Gündling’s recent work speaks to Freudenberg’s commitment to contributing to a more environmentally sound future. The company recently entered into a multiyear contract with LG Energy Solution for the supply of lithium-ion battery cell modules. The deal will aid Freudenberg’s e-Power Systems Business Group, one of the commercial and heavy-duty application market leaders for emission-neutral energy systems.
“This was a strategic commercial transaction that will allow us to significantly scale up battery systems supply to electric bus, commercial truck, and marine application manufacturers,” Gündling says. “Battery technology is a fast and evolving field, which requires constant innovation and scale. You need to be able to master both, independently or in alliance with strong partners.”
He and his family have relocated to the US, back to Germany, and back to the US again, where they currently reside in Michigan. While the senior legal role in new business development can be very demanding, he is constantly thriving for a balance in his personal life and for his family.
That continuing work to be a better father, husband, and lawyer seems like an ongoing project. The lawyer says he regularly seeks out feedback, and he hopes his colleagues feel that they can be honest with him about how he can improve.
“You have to have that ability to actually listen to the people who work for you,” Gündling advises. “Otherwise, you risk creating bad habits and becoming willfully ignorant as you progress.”
The lawyer’s last piece of advice is also perhaps his best. It applies to almost anyone.
“Fear is a bad advisor,” Gündling says. “Do your best to remain independent and try to let something good drive your decision-making.”
The senior counsel’s faith is an incredibly important part of his home and family life, and he says it’s helped him better connect to his family and his community. The lawyer is also an avid outdoorsman; after moving to Michigan, his first major purchases were a canoe and a tent.
As he continues to seek out new possibilities for Freudenberg, Gündling also remains on his own path, one informed by not only a willingness to grow humbly but also pride for where he comes from and who he’s become. He’s found the best solution to feeling like a fish out of water: get back in.
“Ben is a pleasure to work with. He is thoughtful, diligent and responsive to his outside counsel. We enjoy an excellent and collaborative working relationship on high-stakes litigation matters.”
—Michael K. Coran, Litigation Partner