Matthew Hunt – AWP Safety
When North American electric, gas, telecom or general construction companies have a roadside project to launch, there’s a good chance they’ll call AWP Safety. As a leading traffic management company, North Canton, Ohio-based AWP helps keep drivers and road workers safe across 28 states and four Canadian provinces.
In practice, that means on any given day, a large portion of AWP’s 6,000 employees are standing by the side of a road, directing traffic around work zones and braving the prospect of drunk or distracted drivers. It can be a dangerous situation, which is why Chief Legal Officer Matthew Hunt has helped set one overriding goal for the company: provide a safe work environment so he and his colleagues can continue to grow the business.
“Everything we do is with safety in mind,” Hunt says. “And that’s probably been the most professionally satisfying difference between the general counsel role versus being in private practice—being very singularly focused.”
As CLO, Hunt handles everything from employment and injury-related matters to AWP’s recent growth spurt through acquisitions, for which he has supported the deals as well as the subsequent integration process. The company has acquired seven smaller companies since Hunt joined AWP about two years ago.
“These are smaller, sort of mom-and-pop type companies that we’re acquiring, so along with that come integration issues,” Hunt says. “Since I’ve been here, we haven’t acquired a company that has an internal legal function, so I deal with a lot of compliance issues that come up. We just keep our focus on all legal compliance issues.”
Educating about employment issues
As Hunt points out, with an employee base the size of AWP’s, many different employment-related issues crop up. To that end, he’s been trying to implement training not only for workers in the field, but for middle management, as well—everything from how to conduct investigations to how to respond to inquiries from governmental agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Department of Labor and Civil Rights Commission.
“I’m just trying to put some guardrails in place for our folks,” Hunt says. “As we continue growing quickly, most of our acquisitions don’t have standard operating procedures for compliance—a lot of my time is spent educating our team members in the field, shedding the typical view of ‘corporate’ and stressing I’m here to help you. Don’t feel like you have to take something on that you’re not comfortable taking on.”
Many of the smaller companies AWP has acquired would typically let somebody in HR deal with legal issues through outside counsel—or maybe even miss the issue entirely, “which is obviously the worst-case scenario,” Hunt adds.
He’s handled these types of issues for the past 15 years, but now his job also includes the education piece. His goal is to encourage employees to get him involved when issues arise, so he can take a problem off somebody else’s plate—and so he’s not picking up the pieces when it’s too late to salvage a situation.
Scaling up and expanding AWP’s reach
Two recent acquisitions were bigger than your average mom-and-pop company: Trafficade and Statewide, which have similar business models but which vary a bit according to customer base and local needs. The Trafficade acquisition allowed AWP to expand into the Phoenix market, and the Statewide acquisition brought the company into California, Nevada and Washington and strengthened its foothold in Texas.
Mergers and acquisitions always come with an integration process, and those two were no different. Hunt says his integration responsibilities included compliance review, pay practices and leave of absence policies.
The acquisitions, which were announced on the same day in August 2021, have taken several years to integrate with AWP’s core business of transportation management, but it’s been worth it to give AWP greater scale and cross-country operations, Hunt says.
“The biggest obstacle is typically integration of the AWP Safety culture,” he adds. “Once we clear that hurdle, the trust starts to build and teamwork takes off.”
Finding his niche in the family business
Hunt is a graduate of John Carroll University, where he received his B.S. and B.A., and Case Western Reserve University, where he earned his J.D. in 2008. After serving as a legal extern at the Office of the Chief Counsel of the IRS in 2008, he joined Krugliak, Wilkins, Griffiths & Dougherty, an Akron-based law firm where his father and older brother also practice, rising to shareholder and director by 2021.
“This wasn’t a position that I sought out; I was approached, because I did work for the company on an outside basis while I was in private practice,” Hunt explains of his move to AWP two years ago. “I was not unhappy in private practice, and I thought I was going to do it for the entirety of my career.”
Hunt had loved working with his father and brother, whom he describes as wonderful mentors who taught him how to approach legal problems and how to develop patience for things beyond his control. But Hunt knew the opportunity to go in-house at a local company—he lives in Massillon, near AWP Safety’s corporate office in North Canton—with a high-growth trajectory would likely never knock again.
“You have to take advantage of the opportunities when they present themselves, even if you’re not quite ready for them,” he says. “You have to bet on yourself, and I’m very happy with the decision I made. It’s been a wonderful experience with the company so far, and I’m excited for what the future holds.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Summer II 2023 Edition here.
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