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Greg Chemnitz – Materion Corporation

Bringing international legal experience to the engineered materials market

As a high performance engineered materials company with an international presence, it takes a certain kind of general counsel to lead the legal team at Materion Corporation.

With a degree in advanced international studies from Johns Hopkins University and a personal background that includes a number of connections to the European market, Greg Chemnitz has served as Materion’s general counsel since 2007.

Founded in 1931 and headquartered in Cleveland, Materion has 33 locations around the world and provides customers in more than 50 countries with the engineered materials they need for a range of applications, including uses in telecommunications, automotive electronics, industrial components, aerospace, appliances and the defense industry.

Taking on a more business-facing role

Chemnitz joined the company following 15 years as associate general counsel at Avery Dennison, which was itself a longtime Materion customer. “I had worked with the chief financial officer of Materion for a number of years and saw him at the airport. He called a couple of weeks later and said they were looking for someone to fill the general counsel role,” Chemnitz says.

Having spent over a decade as an associate general counsel, Chemnitz was eager to move into the top legal position at a company where he could leverage his background in international law, gain valuable business experience and achieve a level of autonomy. “You have the ability to control the entire legal function and work with the chief financial officer and board, so when positions like that come up, you seriously consider it,” he says.

While Chemnitz’s position with Avery Dennison required him to develop an expertise in the pressure sensitive and office supply industry, he says that many of the lessons learned were easily transferred to his work with an engineered material company like Materion. “The company has a high level of intellectual property, which I was familiar with,” he says.

For Materion’s perspective, Chemnitz was seen as a sharp legal mind with an extensive business background and a practical, respectful approach to legal issues. “My predecessor here was more litigation-oriented whereas my experience was more embedded in the business I had been in,” he says. “I also have strong international experience and the company wanted to expand internationally, so that was helpful.”

Cooperation, not confrontation

Chemnitz earned his law degree from Georgetown Law School and School of Foreign Service in 1984 with a focus in international law. The son of German parents, Chemnitz gained insight on the European market during a year spent abroad in Bologna, Italy, and briefly considered joining the U.S. Foreign Service. “It opens doors not just in the U.S. but around the globe,” he says. “It gave me a better developed and more refined global view of business, government and people.”

In his role as general counsel at Materion, Chemnitz regularly deals with legal issues surrounding environment, health and safety (EHS), mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance, security and compliance, with several different groups reporting into him.

Chemnitz takes a practical approach to legal issues and avoids litigation when possible. While this predilection to avoid costly court battles is not the norm in the American business realm, Chemnitz credits the approach to his time spent working in Europe as Avery Dennison’s senior European counsel in the Netherlands.

“It’s not about being adversarial; it’s about how can we get a win-win. I practiced in Europe for three years where you don’t resort to litigation and for most part issues are handled business-to-business and lawyers have a role that is more business-oriented,” Chemnitz says.

By employing business-to-business solutions such as the use of facilitators to resolve conflicts, Chemnitz is able to quickly and quietly resolve legal issues without wasting valuable time or money. “I’m not enamored with the American process of spending so much in the litigation world because businesses are left with much less for shareholders,” he says.

In one recent case, Chemnitz used a facilitator to resolve a dispute and ended up recovering some $16 million as part of the process. The process was such a success that Chemnitz spoke about the experience at a recent conference and co-authored an article on the process. “It was actually a pretty creative way of achieving an objective. We weren’t at each other’s throats and everyone walked away thinking it was a good outcome,” he says.

As a manufacturer of high-performance engineered materials used in myriad applications, it’s Chemnitz’s job to make sure that customers are briefed on the potential hazards associated with these materials as a means of limiting the company’s liability. “I’m in charge of ensuring that my clients are fully aware of the consequences if something does go wrong and also that we have systems in place to ensure that doesn’t happen in the first place,” he says.

Greg Chemnitz’s ample experience in international markets and collaborative approach to problem-solving make him the perfect man to head up the legal department as general counsel at Materion Corporation.

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