Legal Departments Of The Year: Chemtura GC Billie Flaherty Not Fazed By Bankruptcy Or Other Crises
So Flaherty moved on to Chemtura, where she was first the associate general counsel for litigation. It was the first time the specialty chemicals company had designated one attorney to oversee all litigation. She soon added to her portfolio the title of associate GC for environmental, health, safety and security, and regulatory affairs.
Finally, in February 2009, she was promoted to the top spot in the legal department.
"When I became the general counsel, it was shortly after the recession started," Flaherty said. "The economy was in a decline. Companies, especially in the chemical industry suffered greatly … so we started running into trouble. Shortly after, we were looking to file Chapter 11. My primary responsibility was to get us through the Chapter 11 process."
As Flaherty's staff noted in its submission to the Law Tribune, this was a pressure-filled time.
"Imagine, you have just been promoted to General Counsel of a global chemical company with a rich, 100-year history. Your new CEO presents you your first challenge, 'Get us out of bankruptcy as soon as possible.' Now imagine receiving over 16,000 claims with claim amounts totaling over $9 billion. What do you do? Immediately, consultants, committees, courts, [and] lawyers sprout like weeds."
To this point, Flaherty had little expertise in the fine points of bankruptcy law. But she got up to speed quickly. Upon earning her promotion to GC, Flaherty had already taken her couch out of her office and replaced it with a work table. Now she used the same no-nonsense approach to stay up to date with the bankruptcy proceedings.
"Even some of the smallest claims involved several layers of consideration," the legal staff noted. "Considerations included insurance implications, customer relationships, public relations, [and] contractual considerations. Billie has an incredible knack for remembering details and was familiar with the issues [behind] almost every claim."
Flaherty poured over thousands of documents and had daily discussions with an outside counsel over the status of court filings. Chemtura executive vice president and chief financial officer Stephen Forsyth worked closely with Flaherty during this time, handling the business side of the bankruptcy as she handled the legal end. Forsyth called her a "quick study."
"She's a very engaged leader. She wants to understand the facts of a situation and wants to be kept up-to-date," Forsyth said. "She's always listening and will adjust her approach if need be."
Chemtura was ultimately able to pay all creditors in full and return money to shareholders. "It was a successful process," Flaherty said. "Some Chapter 11s go into liquidation, which is a failure. When we came out, we were able to pay all of our creditors in full with interest."