It’s easy for an organization to showcase its values when everything is going right. The true test of character comes when times get tough. No one knows this better than Doug Balyeat, who had a front-row seat to the response of recycled paper and packaging company Pratt Industries to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In your heart of hearts, you always want to believe that your company is going to do the right thing,” says Balyeat, who serves as vice president, general counsel, and secretary at Pratt. “It’s something totally different to be on this end of a pandemic and realize that you couldn’t be any prouder of the organization for how we prioritized what was most important to us, which was the safety of our employees.”
He takes particular pride in the way Pratt’s executive leadership team steered the company through COVID, but he is just as proud of his own legal team for managing to thrive in the face of the pandemic’s challenges. Beyond that, he and his team have successfully navigated the significant growth Pratt has experienced in recent years as the company has continued to innovate within the corrugated packaging space.
Balyeat first joined Pratt back in 2007. Even then, he could tell that the organization was on an upward trajectory. “The potential for growth was the thing that attracted me to Pratt, and it has fulfilled and exceeded my best expectations,” he says. “Our owner has made very public commitments as far as investment in the United States, and we continue to respect those commitments and create new ‘green’ jobs—sustainability being one of our differential aspects as our paper is 100 percent recycled.”
When he started, Pratt was already a large company with two paper mills, and they are now exponentially larger as they are finishing their sixth paper mill.
As the business has evolved, so has the legal team—and Balyeat’s role within it. “My title is the same, but the role has certainly changed. In the beginning, it was about getting all legal aspects of the company under control,” he explains. “Now, I help manage a wonderful team that takes care of reviewing the contracts and fostering the right relationships with the business folks. But we’ve taken even that aspect to the next level. It’s no longer about just reviewing a contract; it’s about being a true partner to the business units so that we can figure out how to add value and keep the organization’s best interests in mind.”
To ensure their readiness to meet Pratt’s needs, the team—which consists of a blend of attorneys and paralegals—has reorganized its workflow by company location rather than by contract type. Furthermore, the team has learned to recognize instances that warrant tapping into the specialized expertise of outside counsel.
“Some of the relationships that I have with our external partners span decades,” Balyeat says. “We’ve forged these relationships over time, and these are people who are just as much part of the team as the internal folks.”
The strength of the team, both internal and external, was on full display during the pandemic. “In our industry, we saw an increase in demand, which increased the number of contracts and everything else. The team really rose to the challenge during that time,” Balyeat highlights. “It’s been really neat to watch them grow not only individually, but also together as a team.”
But it wasn’t just the legal team that turned COVID into a chance to shine. “We were essential workers, so that afforded us an opportunity to continue to operate our facilities and provide jobs for our employees,” Balyeat says. “But that presented its own challenges because we had to do so in a very safe environment, with temperature checks and daily testing. What I absolutely loved—and what really made me sleep good at night—was seeing our organization, from the highest level, make the decisions each step of the way to protect our employees and to protect our customers.”
Pratt’s executive team, in collaboration with a dedicated COVID committee, guided the company through the pandemic’s uncertainty by engaging in daily update monitoring and closely following all guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control. “The executive committee and the senior-most individuals in the organization took it very seriously,” Balyeat says. “I knew personally that it was important, and to be with a company that shared those same values was amazing.”
Balyeat hopes to continue to embody Pratt’s values and to take an even greater hand in shaping the company’s strategic growth moving forward. No matter how much his role expands, though, he will always be a firm believer that teamwork is the key to success.
“I am where I am because of all of the amazing executives and other folks at Pratt,” Balyeat says. “Each of us is bringing something different to the table, but it’s all of us working together that allows us to close on a piece of real estate or finance a new facility. Whatever the challenge of the moment might be, it really is a team effort, and I am only one chair at that table.”