As General Counsel of Morton Salt, Chad Walker leads the legal department charged with stewarding one of America’s favorite brands—Morton Salt, symbolized by the iconic Umbrella Girl. This Chicago company, founded in 1848, has grown to become North America's leading producer and marketer of salt for home, industry, agriculture, and public uses such as aviation, highways, and water supply.
But when Walker, who was a 2012 LCLD Fellow at McDonald’s, welcomed the current class of Fellows to Morton Salt for a Learning Experience in August, little time was spent on backward glances.
In fact, the day-long program was focused almost entirely on the future, including the company’s ongoing efforts to “reignite the Morton Salt brand” since being acquired by German-based, international mineral company K+S Group (K+S) in 2009.
According to Walker and other executives, new energy is being poured into everything from sustainability initiatives and new product development to a subtle 2014 makeover of the Umbrella Girl, one of the most recognizable brand images in the world.
Among the many highlights of the Learning Experience were an inspirational luncheon talk by LCLD Founding Chair Rick Palmore; a presentation on Morton Salt’s Walk Her Walk master brand strategy and public awareness campaign by Denise Lauer, Senior Director of Communications and Brand Strategy; a tutorial on Morton Salt operations from Jen Schipper, Vice President of Operations; a group mentoring session for Fellows with Walker and DLA Piper Partner David Mendelsohn; and a scientifically administered taste test from John Mackinnon, Senior Director of Technology, Innovation and Quality, that included a sampler of salt-sprinkled desserts.
Another high point was the unique perspective provided by Morton Salt CEO Christian Herrmann (right), a German-born executive with a background in corporate finance and capital markets.
Raised in a family of entrepreneurs, Herrmann was responsible for the capital markets strategy at K+S when he fell in love with acquisition target Morton Salt for its iconic status, growth potential, and attractive cash flows.
Three years later, in 2012, he was named Morton Salt’s Chief Executive Officer, and soon instituted quarterly town hall meetings to engage Morton Salt’s workforce of nearly 3,000 people (including its Canadian and Bahamian affiliates) in the task of reinvigorating the company.
“Morton Salt had a great foundation, but it was stagnant,” Herrmann told the Fellows in a candid, high-energy session. “Like many long-established companies, Morton was functionally siloed, and with 20 different plants across the U.S., kind of disconnected. We had to make sure everyone understood that we needed to come together!”
He also introduced a forward-leaning strategy designed to make Morton Salt more relevant and innovative, and a more exciting place to work.
And as the company prepared to move to a new, progressive, open-space corporate headquarters overlooking the Chicago River, he and the executive team placed a new emphasis on corporate values not just talked about, but lived every single day:
“Think big. Step up. Play to win. Do the right thing. Thrive together.”
Nobody is waiting around for us to do something different, Herrmann added, warning against the inertia at a company that’s been around for 169 years. “It’s on us to shake things up!”
“This is an incredibly exciting time to help lead this company,” said Chad Walker, who has served as Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary since 2015. “Christian has a vision for Morton Salt, and it’s inspiring: to become a more progressive company and a great place to work.”
And to the 40 Fellows who attended the Learning Experience (above), Walker offered words of advice and encouragement: "Take the insights gained at Morton Salt back to your home companies and law firms to help navigate your own path forward."
That’s a distinct career advantage for Fellows, he said, along with the built-in network that the program provides.
"If you’d told me in 2012, as a Fellow, that I would be general counsel in 2015, I would have told you there’s no way. Well, it can happen to you too. If you have the drive and ambition to do more, just look at me and others like me and say, hey—if they can do it, I can too!”
Helping to organize the Learning Experience were other members of the Morton Salt Legal department, including Kendric Cobb (2014 Fellow) and Winnie Kuo (2016 Fellow). Also assisting was Samara Schwartz (2017 Fellow). In addition, Ferlillia Roberson, Of Counsel at DLA Piper, moderated the group mentoring session.
DLA Piper, an LCLD Member, also hosted a welcome reception at its offices in downtown Chicago the evening before the Learning Experience.
Leadership. Action. Results.