Features

Doug Balyeat – Pratt Industries Inc.

Working Outside the Box

Asked to elaborate on what it means for a company to have an “entrepreneurial spirit”—a term he frequently uses to describe his current employer’s overall philosophy and approach—Doug Balyeat could’ve leaned on any number of tired clichés: thinking outside the box or dreaming the impossible. You know the lines.

Instead, he takes a moment to think and, in the excited way one speaks when one has just had an epiphany, begins with a different, unexpected tack.

“I have a five-and-a-half-year-old son,” Balyeat says. A canned response, this is surely not. “And I often think to myself: Here’s an individual who is always bringing incredibly creative ideas to you. Now, life would probably be easier if that weren’t the case. But the fact that his brain is always thinking of creative solutions—things I’ve never thought of before—that’s the kind of mindset we should all have and encourage. And I see that here every day.”

Aligning the sides

“Here,” in this case, is Pratt Industries Inc. the Georgia-based recycled paper and packaging company for which Balyeat has served as general counsel since 2007. The company has experienced steady growth, driven by what Balyeat says is a three-fold dedication to environmental sustainability, its customers and its people—all guided by that ever-important entrepreneurial spirit.

It starts with the most modern containerboard system in North America, which uses 100 percent recycled paper. Pratt’s unique integrated supply chain continues through a network of strategically placed sheet plants, full-line box factories and display facilities, as well as a chain of distribution centers.

As Pratt prepares to open a new containerboard mill in Wapakoneta, Ohio, Balyeat is keeping plenty busy. Specifically, he invests considerable time into Pratt’s extensive compliance efforts, ensuring Pratt’s use of land and resources passes muster with the Environmental Protection Agency, handling all contracts relating to the plant’s construction and much more.

“Whenever you build a facility of this size, it’s bound to take up a lot of your time and resources,” Balyeat says. “But as with anything in this company, everyone has been working towards the same goal and leaning on each other, and that’s a big reason why the mill project will be completed on time and on, or under, budget.”

Shipping and receiving

With a stock preparation system capable of processing 425,000 tons of recycled fiber every year, the facility will be the focal point of Pratt’s new-product initiatives.

Pratt works with its customers to create the most innovative product possible, an arrangement for which Balyeat and his team provide the necessary contracting elements, including indemnity clauses, liability protections and the like.

Balyeat’s duties are a bit broader in scope for protecting product ideas generated by Pratt: filing for intellectual property (IP) protections with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, working with Pratt’s design teams on potential applications—the list goes on.

“Internal innovation is important, and the Pratt legal department is involved early and often in that process,” Balyeat says. “Even if we’re building a better product for a customer and we don’t retain the IP, we see it as a way of building relationships—and that’s critical.”

Safe handling

For most general counsels, such interactions tend to be viewed through a single, legalistic lens: What are we allowed to do? Balyeat prefers a different approach, one formed by an altogether different question: How can the legal team add value?

In a word, Balyeat says, it requires collaboration. More specifically, taking successful best practices from one interaction—say, a non-disclosure agreement baked into a services agreement—and using that concept for other contracts across the company. The result, Balyeat says, is a kind of corporate cross-pollination, one in which Pratt’s legal department can be the hyper-productive worker bees.

“We’re always trying to figure out a way to get to ‘yes’ or at least be slow to ‘no,’” Balyeat says. “A good lawyer can show you all the reasons you shouldn’t do something. A really good lawyer will look for innovative and creative ways to show you how you can do something.”

For Balyeat, Pratt has proven the perfect forum for honing those very skills. The roots of his lawyerly ambition, however, were forged far earlier.

Friendly competition

It was when his older brother joined the high-school debate team and started winning national competitions that the younger Balyeat first heard the legal siren’s song.

“Basically it boiled down to not wanting my brother to be a better arguer at home,” Balyeat jokingly recalls. “I remember watching him and really admiring how methodical and analytical he was. I knew those could be really valuable skills.”

Spurred by a growing interest in business, Balyeat enrolled in Western Kentucky University’s renowned accounting program, earning his B.S. in accounting in 1991. Beginning his career at global accounting giant Ernst & Young, Balyeat’s interest in corporate legal issues eventually led him back to law school, culminating in a J.D. from Wake Forest University in 1997.

Balyeat started his legal career at the Atlanta office of Alston & Bird LLP where he focused primarily on tax matters. Later, Balyeat accepted a position at the nearby Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker LLP. At Paul Hastings, his business-legal skills continued to take shape and grow as he focused on commercial lending, mergers and acquisitions and joint ventures.

The right clients

Eager to pursue what he felt was an “underserved middle market,” Balyeat launched his own firm, Balyeat + Associates in 2005, focusing on complex corporate and business-related matters as well as accounting matters, utilizing both his legal background and his CPA experience.

The challenge of running his own firm was seldom easy, and Balyeat credits the business’ success to close client collaboration—as well as his own abiding enjoyment of the key areas of practice. What’s more, operating as a business advisor prepared him well for the rigors of in-house counsel.

When the position to serve as Pratt’s general counsel presented itself to Balyeat, he was excited about the opportunity and the challenges it would bring, but he also knew that he would miss working with the clients with whom he had developed such strong working relations.

Twelve years later, he’s never looked back.

“On any given day, I might be serving a handful of different functions, dealing with various matters and issues, and each one of those interactions is unique. The relationships I have formed at Pratt are much stronger than I ever expected,” Balyeat says.

Published on: June 13, 2019

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