Jonathan Gulsvig – Professional Plastics
It was not something Jonathan Gulsvig’s parents ever printed on the T-shirts they made, but it might have been a nice fit. “We don’t need more attorneys, but every family should have one,” he recalls his mother telling him.
As he watched his parents operate the family-owned apparel business started by his grandfather, his mother’s words stayed with Gulsvig—and he took heed. Now he’s the general counsel at Professional Plastics, a family-owned business headquartered not far from where he grew up—and one that’s expanding in unexpected ways due to COVID-19.
“I’ve enjoyed building the legal department here,” Gulsvig says, “But now I’m also helping the company navigate some uncharted waters to comply with the many federal and state regulations impacting employment law in response to the pandemic.”
Supply and demand
Founded in 1984 in Fullerton, California, Professional Plastics distributes plastic sheets, rods, tubing and substrates through 20 locations coast-to-coast, and throughout Asia with facilities in Singapore and Taiwan.
Though the company has always performed fabrication work, now it’s doing much more because of the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gulsvig says, specifically making face shields and protective barriers used in retail stores.
The demand for these was unanticipated at the beginning of 2020, and it’s also broadened his duties—some face shields sold as medical devices need to meet U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirements, although they do not require FDA approval as outlined by the agency’s evolving Emergency Use Authorization made in April 2020.
Before Professional Plastics began selling the shields, Gulsvig and outside counsel reviewed the FDA standards, and he notes they also continue to look for temporary changes in restrictions where the company can make other items in demand. Because of this, temporary product lines could become permanent ones.
“I think as long as the need for the equipment is there, like the dividers, I see those changing into more custom designs,” Gulsvig says. “We’ve had a lot of smart people on our team looking beyond masks to things like rounded intubation domes, which are easier to sanitize.”
Vetting innovative devices is far from the only new duty falling on Gulsvig’s shoulders during the pandemic. As early as February, he was part of the company task force preparing to protect employees and the business from COVID-19’s impact. At the time, the most immediate concern was Professional Plastics’ site in Kent County, Washington, Gulsvig says, as the region was already emerging as a COVID-19 hotspot.
Early on, the task force developed a “decision tree” to guide the process for handling potentially exposed employees and keeping branches safe, healthy and functional. Gulsvig says he’s proud of this type of cross-disciplinary teamwork, which allowed corporate leadership to stay connected with business managers and keep the company in tune with changing workplace and labor guidelines.
When the pandemic abates, Gulsvig looks forward to continuing initiatives he’d been working on earlier in 2020. Better contract management leads that list, he says. And while Professional Plastics is a family-owned company relying on relationships to support its largely paper-based purchase orders, there are plenty of opportunities to work with more sophisticated systems for contract management.
So it’s time for a touch of automation, at the very least, though Gulsvig has not had the time to focus on the different kinds of management systems and how to integrate them with the business departments.
Moving ahead, he will be getting input from the Professional Plastics business units; and as he networks with other in-house counsel, Gulsvig is also meeting vendors who can supply the tech the company eventually needs.
Close to home
While he’s built a network to help build the business, Gulsvig has stayed rooted in Southern California. A native of Orange County, Gulsvig earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from UCLA before going on to Chapman University Fowler School of Law.
After earning his J.D. he became an associate attorney at the firm of Walsworth, Franklin, Bevins & McCall in 2008. It was a firm his family had turned to when needed, and getting the job quickly became more than a career move. On his first day at work a member of the marketing team stopped by to get information for his company profile. They eventually got married.
Gulsvig litigated at Walsworth for four years and then became an associate attorney at Selman Breitman in 2012. While growing his own book of business he approached Professional Plastics, offering to handle their outside litigation needs for a better price than they were paying.
As the company did not really have litigation needs, his initial offer was turned down. Mindful of his mother’s advice from his youth, Gulsvig revised his pitch. Instead of handling outside counsel work as a distant lawyer at a law firm, he’d come inside, building on his litigation experience to be Professional Plastics’ first general counsel.
“It was re-pitching the idea of why you need a general counsel to help handle your plans for growth and build in systems to proactively support that growth,” Gulsvig says. “This is a family business that was growing quickly and the need to grow a legal department that could explain contracts or react to employment issues became very apparent.”
And while Selman Breitman was losing a skilled litigator, partner Matt Brady knew what Professional Plastics was gaining. “He’s a brilliant guy, very personable, someone who you’d always want as a part of your legal team,” says Brady, who’s known Gulsvig for 15 years—from their days in law school.
Brady says he was recruited by Gulsvig to join Selman Breitman in 2012, and the two can still occasionally chat about cases they see that may eventually affect litigation or other business concerns. “That’s still something I enjoy,” Brady says. “Jon’s a very bright attorney who always focuses on the highest legal standards, ethics and results for his clients.”
Gulsvig’s litigation experience has come into play by helping Professional Plastics avoid it, but his professional growth has provided him much more.
“In a law firm, you’re surrounded by a lot of legal professionals who know what’s going on in the legal realm, but it may be less team-based than it can be on the business side,” he says. “But as I was building the legal department, I had to integrate a whole new team into the mix without getting in the way of the underlying business goal.”
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