Ellen Sheedy – KEEN
While working as an attorney at Perkins Coie in Portland, Oregon, Ellen Sheedy would often take quick breaks to walk around the neighborhood. During these jaunts, she says she probably passed the global headquarters of footwear company KEEN 1,000 times. Sheedy knew that the company had a long-standing connection to making the outdoors accessible, a passion of hers from an early age.
So, when a friend who worked at KEEN told Sheedy about an open corporate-counsel position (and how great it was to work there) she applied. If the position was anything like her favorite pair of their outdoor shoes, she had a hunch it would be a good fit.
Hired by KEEN in 2014, Sheedy jumped into handling legal work including corporate law, commercial agreements, employment, intellectual property, compliance and risk management, e-commerce and data privacy. By 2017 she’d been promoted to senior corporate counsel. In 2019 she was promoted to associate general counsel. When the company’s former general counsel left in 2020, she moved into the top spot on the legal team.
“The best thing about the job—and the hardest—is that in this position you are a true generalist,” Sheedy says. “Our company’s commitment to making the outdoors accessible to all is what attracted me to the company. It’s a joy to work at a place that is family-owned and lives by the values it believes in.”
The KEEN movement
As general counsel, one of Sheedy’s main objectives involves protecting the KEEN brand.
To that end, Sheedy and her staff monitor online marketplaces for knock-off and counterfeit products. They also work with customs and law enforcement agents worldwide to slow down the manufacture and sale of fake goods. Sheedy also works closely with KEEN’s product development and innovation teams to file patent applications.
Her recent work includes supporting the development of KEEN’s new manufacturing facility in the Dominican Republic. To do that, she worked with local counsel to form a new legal entity, navigating international regulatory business requirements, learning local HR policies and procedures and complying with commerce regulations. She also provides legal support for manufacturing facilities in Portland, Oregon, and in Thailand, as well as at the company’s regional headquarters in Canada, Japan and the Netherlands.
The company is not only proud of where—but also how—it makes its products. As she explained, KEEN recently publicly-shared how it removed unhealthy perfluorinated chemicals from its products—and challenged the outdoor footwear industry to use this information and go PFC-free by 2025.
Sheedy explains KEEN is on a “detox journey” to make footwear using recycled materials such as plastic bottles and eliminating harmful substances from the manufacturing process. “Sustainable manufacturing is a matter of making deliberate choices,” Sheedy says. “Everything we do is focused on minimizing the impact to the environment.”
Open for 2021
Despite the physical and financial ramifications of COVID-19, Sheedy says KEEN’s global shoe sales have grown, thanks in part to the expansion of its direct-to-consumer and e-commerce sales channels.
“Now, more than ever, we all need easy access to products that help us get outside, whether it is in our backyard, a local park or nearby trail,” Sheedy says.
She was ready for this pivot as a result of her work establishing brand protection initiatives, building out the company’s minimum advertised price monitoring program, developing a global data privacy program, and implementing a contract workflow and management system to streamline review of new ecommerce vendor agreements.
“During this period, we’ve adapted quickly and been able to leverage technology to make our work more efficient and to better support the business needs.”
If the shoe fits, wear it
After earning a bachelor’s in English from Williams College in Massachusetts in 2001—where she was a member of the Nordic ski team—Sheedy headed west to Northwestern University School of Law. There, she became interested in gaining an understanding of how lawyers can best facilitate business growth. Earning her J.D. in 2007, she was hired by Perkins Coie that same year.
Working there for almost seven years, Sheedy worked on everything from corporate governance matters and venture capital financing to public offerings, to securities law compliance and mergers and acquisitions—all of which would come into play at her next role.
“The time spent at law firm was great training for what was to come. I was lucky to get the experience and mentorship I needed,” Sheedy says. “When I arrived at KEEN I was ready to dive-in head first.”
As she reflects on the past six years with KEEN, Sheedy says she’s proud of her work building a legal team to support a rapidly-growing company committed to giving back to local communities and supporting organizations that connect people to the outdoors—through everything from fly fishing to swimming lessons.
The company bristles at the term “corporate responsibility,” preferring to position itself as “social and environmental justice action-takers,” Sheedy says, and has helped more than 7,000 children connect to nature while implementing a variety of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
This community work is not only important to the family-owned business, she says, but also for her. Sheedy has served on the board of directors of nonprofits enabling access to the outdoors, such as Teacup Nordic and Forest Park Conservancy.
“Living purposefully and doing the right thing is the way to work and live,” Sheedy says. “By building products with quality and integrity we can all make a long-term positive impact and leave places better than we found them.”
For Sheedy, it sure feels like a step in the right direction.
View this feature in the Vanguard Summer III 2021 Edition here.
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