Webcor Builders’ Hank Brasch, winner of Bay Area General Counsel Award, on why you should take every opportunity to listen to the experiences of others.
From the San Francisco Business Times:
Henry Brasch, senior vice president and general counsel at Webcor Builders in San Francisco, is one of our 2017 Bay Area Corporate Counsel winners. The awards were presented March 2 by the Silicon Valley Business Journal and the San Francisco Business Times.
The following Q&A has been edited for clarity.
Main responsibility: Manage legal and risk management issues facing the company, advise and represent the company in legal matters and transactions to ensure compliance with legal requirements, identify and creatively address potential legal issues, and drive the company’s overall strategic plan as a member of the executive management team.
You became a lawyer because: As a political science major, my options were to continue parking cars or go to law school. In all honesty, I did not know how I wanted to use my law degree, but I felt confident that it would be intellectually rewarding. I enjoy problem solving.
A memorable transaction where you had a successful outcome: Webcor was recently awarded the U.C. Merced 2020 Project — a $1.2 billion expansion of the U.C. Merced campus, increasing the student enrollment from less than 3,000 students to more than 10,000 students by 2020. The project is the first major social infrastructure project in the U.S. utilizing the public-private partnership delivery model, a unique method for privately financing public infrastructure that is used extensively in other parts of the world. This project will serve as a model for funding complex infrastructure projects in the U.S. for years to come.
The biggest change the legal profession has seen in the past decade: During this time, as the regulations change and the threat of litigation rises, the importance of in-house lawyers has never been greater. As general counsel, I am a core member of the management team and am asked to offer advice not just on law and related matters, but also help shape discussion and debate about business issues. Speaking with other in-house counsel, I think this trend is evident across most industries. This makes sense. Having experienced, inside lawyers controls outside legal costs. Furthermore, having broad-gauged, business-savvy lawyers at the table increases speed and productivity.
The biggest professional challenge you’ve overcome and how did you do it: Learning to trust myself and not second-guess my decisions was the biggest professional challenge I had to overcome. In law school and as a young associate, I quickly learned how to provide thorough legal analysis for my clients. When I moved in-house, I realized that I was not only required to provide the legal analysis, I was expected to take that information and often make the call on how best to proceed. This process requires you to listen to others and closely examine practical business considerations, and then to have the courage to actually make a decision.
The biggest legal issue or challenge you anticipate facing in the next year: It is hard to single out one legal issue as being the most challenging. However, the new political administration certainly raises a number of challenges. On a positive front, the potential increase in infrastructure work across the country creates a significant growth opportunity for construction companies like ours. Making sure that our company is set up from a legal perspective to take advantage of those opportunities will be critical. On a less positive front, the changing immigration laws pose significant challenges for our workforce moving forward.
The best free legal advice you have for business owners: As a lawyer, my job is to identify and, in turn, manage risk. While this might not be purely “legal” advice, the ability for a company to effectively identify risks increases dramatically when your management team is diverse and views the company through varied perspectives. If a company fails to identify risks properly, the best lawyers in the world will do the company little good. Having people from the same background around the table is a surefire way to fail to properly identify the critical risks facing your company.
If you weren’t in this career, you would: Probably teaching high school civics and coaching the golf team. I can’t think of a more honorable career than teaching, but unfortunately, $50,000 a year is simply not enough to support a family in the Bay Area. The reality is that if we paid teachers an amount that even came close to the proportionate value teachers bring to our communities, more of us would look to that profession.
Best advice you’ve ever received: My high school social studies teacher had a plaque above his desk that read “Honor Your Own Wisdom.” One of the most rewarding aspects of serving as general counsel is that I am not only providing legal analysis, but I am asked to work alongside our executive team to make important decisions for the company. The right decision is usually not self-evident, and at the end of the day you must have the confidence to trust your analysis and ultimately your decision.
First paying job: Parking cars at Marin Joe’s in Marin County. There is nothing like an all-cash business! I became friends with many of the regulars at the restaurant who were mostly retired and would spend several hours there each day eating lunch and drinking a few martinis. They shared great stories with me about their careers in the Bay Area and provided me with great advice. As a young kid, you think you know it all, but you should take every opportunity to listen to those who have already been through it and are willing to share their stories.