Carli West Kinne – Panasonic Corp. of North America
Kinne’s selections include “Fighter” by Christina Aguilera, a tune with an aggressive melody and theme of overcoming that she says describes her life’s journey. She also likes “Take a Chance on Me,” ABBA’s upbeat hit that captures the opportunities she’s had to develop as in-house attorney.
Her husband also suggested Michael Jackson’s “We Are the World” because, as general counsel for PENA, she and her team collaborate with Panasonic’s Osaka-headquarters, supporting the business which makes cylindrical lithium-ion battery cells for electric vehicles.
“I was the first on-site legal presence for PENA,” Kinne says. “With that, I had to grow an organization to support the growing business, and it was a very steep ramp up to meet our customers’ needs.”
Driving into the future
Panasonic Energy’s technology includes automotive lithium-ion batteries, storage battery systems and dry batteries. The batteries and systems are sold globally and used in business areas including mobility, as well as medical and consumer products, such as wearable devices.
Kinne joined PENA as a contract attorney in April 2018, not long after the Sparks, Nevada, battery manufacturing facility opened. As the company grew, she was tasked with building a legal department and operations.
She began with contract management—requiring all contracts, master service agreements and nondisclosure agreements to be sent to her for review. She also hired staff, including contract managers and an attorney in Japan who is a liaison to Osaka headquarters and reviews contracts used by departments in Japan.
Earlier this year, PENA expanded its Nevada operations by renovating an existing three-story, 94,500-square-foot building in Reno to create a centralized campus with offices, engineering labs, and recruitment and training facilities.
Kinne says managing the deal, including real estate and environmental and construction matters, was a signal she again needed to expand the legal team—just in time for Panasonic Energy’s expansion into Kansas, which was announced in July.
A $4 billion investment, the new De Soto plant will include a lithium-ion battery production facility located on 300 acres. The expansion is expected to create 4,000 new jobs and make Panasonic the first recipient of Kansas’ Attracting Powerful Economic Expansion, or APEX, tax incentive.
Production in Kansas is expected to begin by March 2025. The plant will produce approximately 30 GWh of battery cells annually to supply electric vehicle manufacturers in the U.S.
Kinne and outside counsel from the law firm of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP have been working together on the expansion. She says the company chose the De Soto location because the area offers reliable infrastructure, a diverse and skilled workforce with engineering and manufacturing backgrounds, and a central location in North America.
She says they’ve worked with Gov. Laura Kelly’s office and the Kansas Department of Transportation for needed road improvements leading to the plant. They have also worked with the state’s commerce department and regional economic development authority to develop and implement a plan for the water, sewer and power infrastructure needed.
Concurrently, Kinne and outside counsel have worked with De Soto and Johnson County officials for local permits and public improvement projects to support the project. Panasonic will also collaborate with the local school district, community colleges and universities in Kansas to help develop the workforce with curriculum and training programs, she adds.
Teaching and practicing
Though Kinne spends most of her time working on contracts and advising on a variety of legal matters, she still considers herself a tech lawyer because PENA produces 2 billion EV batteries annually and has shipped more than 6 billion since production began.
In fact, Kinne aspired to become a technology lawyer when she earned her J.D. from Seattle University School of Law in 2002. A native of Las Vegas, she earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Nevada, Reno, in 1999.
After graduating from law school in 2002, Kinne served as a clerk for Nevada Supreme Court Justice Robert Rose for two years. She then went in-house as associate general counsel for Wingfield Nevada Group. Kinne focused on corporate and real estate, intellectual property, employment, and construction matters. She also worked with outside counsel on litigation.
Kinne joined the Nevada Center for Biomedical Research as vice president, chief of operations and general counsel in July 2010. Among other tasks, she provided legal counsel and guidance on scientific research rules and regulations, grant and nonprofit compliance, and intellectual property law.
She joined PENA in April 2018 as senior counsel and became general counsel in May 2019. She was promoted to her current position in October 2020.
Kinne’s immediate family includes educators, but she chose law because she says it still provides a chance to teach as she manages legal affairs.
“As in-house counsel we need to embed ourselves in the business,” Kinne says. “We need leaders to be part of things from the start. I value collaboration and teamwork over someone that has all the skills in the world and can’t fit in with the team culture.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Winter II 2023 Edition here.
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