Legal Departments Of The Year: Chemtura GC Billie Flaherty Not Fazed By Bankruptcy Or Other Crises
One publication dubbed Billie Flaherty the "Rebound Queen," for helping global chemical company Chemtura Corporation get through a difficult bankruptcy. But it's hardly her only success in the corporate world.
When she worked for Pitney Bowes, Flaherty negotiated the $30 million sale of the Stamford company's 22-acre main manufacturing complex to a commercial real estate developer. At New Jersey-based GenTek, she was the face of the company, calming political and civic leaders and community activists after significant chemical releases from plants in California and Delaware. And as managing attorney at Hanson North America in Pittsburgh, she challenged insurance company decisions to deny coverage for environmental liabilities, resulting in $300 million in negotiated settlements.
For her many achievements in a corporate legal setting, Flaherty, currently the senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary for Chemtura, will receive the Connecticut Law Tribune's Lifetime Achievement Award at an upcoming Legal Departments of the Year ceremony.
She has the enthusiastic backing of her Middlebury-based Chemtura legal staff. "Billie has the uncanny ability to scope any challenge, and deduce the complexities in a way that make solving the biggest problems both actionable and achievable," corporate legal staffers wrote in response to an emailed question.
How many attorneys start their careers with the goal of working in-house? Flaherty may be one of the few. But, she notes, "my career path has not always been a straight line."
In fact, after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1982, she started out her career in litigation at a Pittsburgh law firm. But she left after two years for in-house work at Pittsburgh companies, first Westinghouse Electric Corp. and then Koppers Company.
"I practiced outside for a while with the goal to go in-house. While I enjoy litigation, it was very reactive," she said of that first job out of law school. An in-house lawyer, can certainly help out when there is trouble. But, even better, according to Flaherty, a GC can also offer advice on how to stay out of trouble.
It was at Koppers that Flaherty settled into a career niche. There, she was responsible for environmental, health and safety compliance for the company's chemical operations. In two of her future jobs, at GenTek and Pitney Bowes, she was vice president for environmental, health and safety. And she's worked for several companies, including Hanson, GenTek and Chemtura, that are in the chemical industry.
In 10 years as managing attorney at Hanson, she had her hands full developing and implementing strategies to resolve environmental claims and litigation with a contingent liability of more than $1 billion. She spent the next six years at GenTek, where, in addition to handling "high-profile encounters with regulatory agencies," according to her résumé, she also implemented safety and health compliance programs that reduced the company's employee injury rates and workers' compensation costs.
She came to Connecticut in 2004 to work at Pitney Bowes, a company known for its business office machinery. But she left the next year, feeling a bit out of place. "It was my first time out of the chemical space," she explained.