Elliot Kahler – Janus International Group
As a collegiate tennis standout, Elliot Kahler wasn’t shy about charging the net. A slim 6-foot-3 specimen who captained Emory University’s nationally ranked team during his senior year, he’d establish his authority on the court.
Or anywhere else. Upon earning his undergraduate and law degrees from Emory University and cutting his legal teeth for just over a year with a couple of Atlanta firms, the 28-year-old Kahler approached one of the area’s major employers and made the case for it needing in-house counsel.
Janus International Group hadn’t even been among Kahler’s clients. Nevertheless, he had grown up in Carrollton, Georgia, near where Janus was headquartered, and knew about the door manufacturing business through his long-term relationship with its founder, David Curtis, and his son, Madison Curtis. Both mentors of Kahler (still to this day), Janus’s “core mentality” was understood well before he joined the company, and it serves as his north star when evaluating corporate decision-making.
Given Janus’s trajectory, Kahler reckoned it could benefit significantly from in-sourcing certain aspects of its legal load. Once the precocious then-28-year-old Kahler initiated a meeting with the Janus bosses in the fall of 2018, they, too, reckoned the value a corporate legal department could bring.
Quite the gutsy move for a young lawyer to be advising older executives on certain areas of improvement relative to their rapidly growing business. But it was in keeping with Kahler’s modus operandi, and, as he recalls, there was much about the early tasks to keep him humble.
“I took a pay cut and responsibilities that I felt were initially below what a first- or second-year associate might be faced with,” he tells Vanguard in January. “But I wanted to work for this company and demonstrate the value I could bring to areas where, historically, there wasn’t a perceived or fully understood need.
“In doing so, I placed a greater level of importance on gaining immediate experience—both from the commercial and legal side of things—as opposed to focusing on titles, offices, or perquisites. Plus, I was committed to Janus’s way of doing business from the outset.”
Door opens for growth
Almost five-and-a-half years later, Kahler says the step back proved well worth it. He was promoted to general counsel in September 2022 and is no longer a one-man show, now overseeing five direct reports, including two lawyers. And Janus seems to benefit from his mix of legal and business savvy.
Shortly after Kahler’s arrival, Janus acquired the Nokē Smart Entry system that’s been a game-changer for self-storage access control – its electronic locks and motion sensors enhance physical security, automate operational processes, and provide increased visibility with robust customer data while sparing customers the challenge of remembering their gate codes. Through Nokē, which is operated by a digital key through a mobile device, a customer can grant temporary unit access to a friend while an activity log keeps track of who enters and when.
Janus landed on the New York Stock Exchange in mid-2021 and has also acquired multiple companies during Kahler’s tenure. Furthermore, the company has opened a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Wroclaw, Poland, to continue developing its overseas operations. In early 2023, Kahler joined colleagues in traveling to Eastern Europe and looking at prospective sites before negotiating a deal with a Polish property owner.
It’s all part of being the legal team leader of a dynamic company, which had been Kahler’s goal, at least as soon as he realized that as formidable a tennis player, he might have been for the Emory University Eagles, he wasn’t as good as some of his opponents. After sharing a training session with the University of Georgia’s John Isner, who played professionally, set an ATP record with more than 14,000 aces, and competed at Wimbledon, Kahler knew he’d better transition to a more traditional line of work.
“You don’t have a career in tennis unless you’re among the top 100 players,” Kahler says. “I was probably among the top 1,000 in doubles.”
Ace in his court
But he’s no slouch in corporate and commercial law, and the now 33-year-old Kahler is at the top of his game. He also doesn’t find it particularly remarkable how he, unlike most young lawyers, didn’t have to commit years to chasing billable hours at a firm.
“First off, I’ve always been a self-starter,” he says. “I’ll absolutely rely on outsiders and our external attorneys when the need arises, but I’m a voracious reader regarding legal matters and scope. Once I understand how the pieces fit, I’m good.”
He’s had some role models, including a grandfather who was senior executive vice president and general counsel for Cigna Group and stressed how much more fulfilling it was to nurture one client—your employer—rather than a roster’s worth. “I myself didn’t love the aspect of having 30 clients,” Kahler says. “When you have one true client, you feel you’re a part of it. You become a true conscience for the business.”
There still can be a need to demonstrate your value, Kahler says, explaining that in-house legal departments can often be perceived as cost centers or disruptors to the commercial process. Lest anyone feel that way about him, he emphasizes how he and his team have got to demonstrate practically how they’re part of the overall day-to-day business plan.
The prima facie evidence is there, what with the continued Nokē implementation, SPAC IPO, mergers and acquisitions, and the Polish project, among other initiatives. Personal life also fulfills, Kahler and his wife raising an 8- and a 9-year-old and enjoying life in Carrollton, a small city 45 miles west of Atlanta.
He still plays the odd game of tennis, only recreationally, but lessons learned on the court endure. It took some doing for Kahler to become a top player while honing his skills under the unforgiving sun in Georgia and Florida and initially playing at Kennesaw State University before transferring to Emory in 2011, where he won a team national title and a national title in doubles.
“In tennis and business, you have to have a team mentality,” he says. “Some people might be unhappy with how they’re positioned, and you’ve got to learn to deal with it in a way that doesn’t destroy or degrade the team. We all must be on the same team and work for each other. It’s true in tennis and certainly translates into law and business.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Winter II 2024 Edition here.
Showcase your feature on your website with a custom “As Featured in Vanguard” badge that links directly to your article!
Copy and paste this script into your page coding (ideally right before the closing