Rich Kent – Honeywell
From classroom tech to top-secret aviation projects, there are few industries that global engineering giant Honeywell doesn’t touch. If you’re an in-house counsel there, you can spend half a lifetime working your way through the business divisions.
While Rich Kent may not have expected to make that journey, he’s on the path after 15 years at the company.
From handling mergers and acquisitions to his current role as vice president and general counsel for Honeywell’s Performance Materials and Technologies division, Kent has been part of legal operations in Atlanta, Houston and currently, PMT’s headquarters in Morris Plains, New Jersey.
“There’s always been such a diversity of things that are going on at any given time,” Kent says. “I’ve always been grateful for the depth and breadth of my experiences and how I get to apply what I’ve learned to drive efficiency within the organization.”
Kent has a simple summary to describe the areas covered by just one of the PMT division’s businesses—process solutions—that touches petrochemicals, tissue and packaging manufacturing, food and beverage, and public utilities.
“We make and sell control and measurement systems and analytics for anything that gets processed,” he says. “Anything that starts in one condition and ends up in another is within the scope of opportunities for which HPS can provide solutions.”
Process controls, process technology, licensing metering systems for pipelines, packaging materials and refrigerants for HVAC and food storage, and chemicals used in research and refining: PMT handles it all, Kent says.
While he continues working on automating his department’s procedures—such as drafting and storing contracts and agreements—in 2020 he’ll be focused on risk avoidance.
And now is an apt time. Both the COVID-19 pandemic and recent crash in oil prices have affected his division, Kent says, but because so many of Honeywell’s customers are considered essential businesses, operations have generally not halted.
“First and foremost, we’re thinking of the safety of the individuals still working on-site,” he says. “We have a lot of factories considered essential that are still open.”
Those factories are making chemicals vital to the pharmaceutical industry, and production-support systems and equipment vital to the energy industry, Kent adds. Honeywell PMT is also offering its remote operations technologies to help customers challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kent and his global team of about 80 legal professionals are working to ensure company facilities follow shelter-in-place laws and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for distancing and protection. Still, he says he’s giving advice nearly every day because rules can change so quickly.
He’s also working closely with business and finance staff to address concerns from customers and other stakeholders facing economic challenges.
When oil futures briefly sank below $0 per barrel in April, it marked a historic contraction, broadly affecting the oil and gas industry in his division services.
But Kent prefers to see the barrel as half-full, knowing Honeywell already designs and makes the tech and devices the industry uses to operate efficiently.
“Because some of these technologies are being implemented by necessity now, both to operate remotely and more cost-effectively, we do hope to see a significant uptick in business,” he says.
A new model
Beyond a pandemic and plunging petroleum prices, Kent says he and his team are supporting efforts to create new business models.
That requires restructuring some business agreements to create recurring revenue streams that help maintain a closer and more collaborative relationship with Honeywell customers. It also means developing outcome-based commercial offerings and an increased focus on protecting intellectual property rights associated with a myriad of rapidly developing new technologies.
Then there’s the need to comply with data and privacy regulations currently going into effect around the world. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, implemented in 2018, is not only the most stringent; it also serves as a template for laws in other nations and some U.S. states.
According to Kent, the GDPR required the company to change how it introduces products, including a review of processes to ensure that Honeywell’s suppliers and partners also have appropriate compliance measures in place.
Compliance and risk mitigation have proven the steepest parts of Kent’s learning curve, though they were a part of the M&A work he did in previous roles.
“To prepare for my recent GC roles I had to brush up on antitrust, export regulations, data protection and litigation practice,” Kent explains. “It would not have been possible without the help of the extended legal team across Honeywell and my colleagues in business management and functional roles who filled in knowledge gaps and enabled me to apply legal principles more effectively.”
A legal journey
Kent has his own store of legal expertise—despite not always knowing how his professional path would unfold.
A San Diego native, Kent came east for college, earning a bachelor’s in economics and political science from Yale in 1995. But he soon found himself at a crossroads, trying to channel his affinity for languages and math into something with immediate practical application.
He landed on law.
“As I thought about disciplines and professions, it boiled down to medical school, law school, working on Wall Street or becoming a consultant,” Kent says. “If you look at those options, legal seemed to have a lot of opportunities.”
Kent went on to the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, earning his J.D. in 1998 with cum laude honors while serving as articles editor for the law review.
After graduating, Kent clerked for Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Chief Justice Hebert P. Wilkins, then became an associate at the New York firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP.
In 2005, he joined Honeywell as an assistant general counsel with a focus on corporate transactions. The role allowed him to build on his prior M&A experience, but little did he realize his career at Honeywell would take him through so many different business divisions.
“Being in-house has given me the best of all worlds,” he says. “At Honeywell, I am fortunate to be able to combine my passion for law with a corporate mission of helping to shape a better world for generations to come.”
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