Anthony Yoo – ChemTreat Inc.
Anthony Yoo compares ChemTreat Inc., an international industrial water treatment company, to a hematologist, a doctor who makes sure a person’s blood is clean and working properly.
As Yoo explains it, just as human bodies depend on the composition of the blood circulating through them, industrial equipment and facilities rely on water as their life blood. ChemTreat treats the water for customers in industries including oil and gas, data centers, food and beverage, mining, paper and many more, making sure their water has the right chemical characteristics going in and coming out, and by doing so, ensuring the equipment stays healthy and works efficiently.
Coming from Yoo, who is vice president and general counsel for the company, the metaphor is particularly apt as he comes from a family of doctors, and he extends it to the way ChemTreat delivers its services.
Both the legal department and the company offer a personalized approach, much like a good, old-fashioned primary physician—someone who knows you, your family and your life and who listens and takes care of you—Yoo says. Neither ChemTreat nor the legal department relies on swooping in when problems arise. Instead, both regularly connect with their customers in order to anticipate needs, avoid problems and, as he says, unlock value.
Yoo, who started on a pre-med path before finding his way to law school, says that his understanding of science and how it connects to business and law helps him bridge legal issues and technical and business needs so he can develop practical solutions and communicate effectively with people with technical and non-technical, and legal and non-legal, backgrounds.
Winning hearts and minds
Since Yoo joined in 2012, ChemTreat has almost doubled in size and grown to a half-billion dollar company with an international footprint.
That’s due in large part to the individual and customized attention ChemTreat gives to its clients. Rather than trying to push a portfolio of standard products, ChemTreat meets with each client and develops unique solutions for their needs in order to help “unlock the value of their water,” which can be complicated by complex and varied international chemical and environmental regulations.
“We are very focused on building lasting bonds internally. This only works with a committed and talented team, and we’re fortunate enough to have one.”
Yoo says that ChemTreat’s personal approach carries over to how the legal department of 14, including lawyers and other professionals, operates and how it services employees spread throughout the Western Hemisphere.
“We are very focused on building lasting bonds internally, as well,” Yoo says. “This only works with a committed and talented team, and we’re fortunate enough to have one.”
Associate development is a high priority for Yoo and ChemTreat, and he emphasizes that ChemTreat devotes a lot of time and energy to developing the legal team. The company supports training and education, including coordinating courses with Harvard Business School. Yoo also led the legal team to develop a department mission statement, which emphasizes active listening, relationships, expertise and a strong commitment to compliance.
Yoo says a legal team cannot underestimate the importance of “winning hearts and minds,” or getting buy in from the business team by helping them see and feel the value of the legal advice they receive, so they take it to heart and live it.
To give effective advice, he says, “Our team needs to understand what pressures our customers—internal and external—are going through. Our colleagues need to recognize the solution as valuable, not just another burden on their plate.”
If Yoo’s legal team is helping the sales organization solve a problem, for instance, they need to understand that if sales are delayed, not only are business targets at risk, but so are the commissions of individual sales reps—money in their pockets that their families may depend on.
“When we counsel them, we can’t pretend that’s not the case,” Yoo says. “That may or may not impact the legal analysis, but it will definitely impact how we communicate and how we evaluate potential solutions in terms of how successfully they are likely to be implemented in practice.”
Yoo and his team have maintained this thoughtful approach even as ChemTreat has expanded throughout the Western Hemisphere—ChemTreat companies now have offices in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Trinidad, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.
Yoo has the advantage of a broad background, which helps him connect with a wide range of people and quickly evaluate a variety of situations. He comes from a long line of doctors, and he was expected to go to medical school.
“When I decided not to go to medical school, there was a little consternation in my household,” he says, “but what I find is it [the pre-med background] helps a great deal. When someone talks about acids, bases, corrosive materials, redox reactions or chemical compatibility, I understand what they’re saying, and I can speak their language.”
Yoo always was a fan of keeping his options open and pursuing a range of interests. Even as a pre-med student, Yoo didn’t limit his focus on science. He minored in English and took classes in finance, accounting, psychology, philosophy, art history and theater.
When Yoo was ready to apply for medical school, he found that doctors felt the practice was changing, and he “did not get a warm, fuzzy feeling” about careers in the medical field. He chose law school because it would leave him with lots of options, help him continue to grow and allow him to help others.
After Yoo graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law, he clerked for U.S. District Judge Edward R. Korman, who became an important mentor, and then spent years in private practice with firms Fried Frank and Covington & Burling in New York and Washington, D.C., respectively. There, he gained expertise in a variety of legal areas, including securities regulation, trademark litigation, bankruptcy, toxic tort, environmental litigation and healthcare fraud. He even passed the patent bar and litigated and prosecuted patents.
Yoo then spent nine years at Altria Group, one of the world’s largest producers and marketers of tobacco, cigarettes and related products. There, Yoo was selected for various management training programs, continued to work on a wide range of legal issues and played a leading role in developing Altria’s first smoking cessation program, first enterprise-wide risk management process, first corporate responsibility report, and transition to FDA regulation.
What drew Yoo to ChemTreat was the opportunity to be general counsel for a company where he could participate in strategic decision-making for all aspects of the company’s business and contribute to protecting the environment.
“We only have one earth,” he says. “There’s so much waste, and environmental considerations are often put on the back burner. To be part of a company whose business is dedicated to addressing those issues, and to making it profitable for companies to do so, is incredibly rewarding.”
Note: Since the completion of this article, Anthony Yoo has been promoted to general counsel for Water Quality Platform – Americas at Danaher, ChemTreat’s parent company.
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