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Markus Hartmann

General Counsel

Mister Car Wash

Tucson, Arizona

Past employment includesassociate, Hale & Dorr

JD Harvard Law School

MBA LeMoyne College

BA Colorado College

Ex-Marine and MBA travels between law and business

markus+hartmann 23 (1)

On going from law directly to brand management

On the difference between being a compliance lawyer and the business role of compliance officer

On being a pilot or going to law school

Listen to interview:

Full Transcript

ex judicata: Markus, I was looking at your background, your career journey. So interesting, including stints as a General Counsel and positions as head of compliance.  Back and forth.  Oh, and by the way you were also a Colonel in the Marine Corps and a helicopter pilot, which is just plain cool   Let’s start at the beginning. What came first for you? The desire to be in the military or to be an attorney?

Markus Hartmann: That’s a great question.  In 1983, I walked into the military recruiter’s office, and said, I want to be a Judge Advocate in the Marine Corps.   Ronald Reagan was in office and there was this big DOD buildup. There were all sorts of weapon systems being bought.  So, at the time, I think my recruiter was probably incentivized to get more pilots into the pipeline. He had me take a standardized test called the AQT/FAR. It turns out my score indicated that I had the basic aptitude to be a pilot.  I think the recruiter was in line for bonus points if he could sign me up to be a pilot.  He basically made what I thought, was a persuasive argument.  He said, ‘look, you know you can be a lawyer when you’re an old man, but there’s only one chance to be a pilot,  and that’s now while you’re young.  I also believed that the quality of law school I could get into would improve if I did something interesting after college.  Combine my choices with a bit of luck, and it all worked out for me.

ex judicata:: I’d say so, Harvard Law School.  How long were you in the military then before you went to law school?

Markus Hartmann: 1986 is when I went full-time active duty.  I was discharged from active duty and started law school seven years later in 1993.

Markus Hartmann:  I went through my first year of law school completely unaffiliated with the Marine Corps.  And then, when I was relatively confident that I could handle the course load, I joined the reserves and I did things in the reserves that former pilots used to do.  I was a forward air controller, and I was a maintenance officer.  But then when 9/11 happened, there was an opportunity to volunteer and take active-duty orders  

When I volunteered for active duty with Marine Corps, I spoke with a Reserve staffing officer and said: ‘Look, I’ve always wanted to be a Judge Advocate, and now since I’m a civilian lawyer, I’m qualified to attend Naval Justice School.  In return, I will happily take orders anywhere in the world.  It made sense.  I wasn’t going to be able to get back into the cockpit after 9/11, but I was going to be able to contribute with my legal leadership skills.  I became a Judge Advocate in 2002.   And in 2005, I was deployed to Djibouti as a Staff Judge Advocate for Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (JTF-HOA), where I was essentially the General Counsel to the 2 Two-Star Generals who lead that Task Force over the course of that year.

ex judicata: That’s wonderful.  What was your first legal job in the private sector?

Markus Hartmann:  I worked for Hale & Dorr in Boston before they became WilmerHale. That’s when it was truly a Boston-based firm.  I was a summer associate after my first year in law school.  In my third year of law school, I was able to work part-time at Hale & Dorr, and then I went full time after I graduated law school.

ex judicata:  Hale & Dorr famously portrayed in the brilliant book, A Civil Action.

Markus Hartmann: Exactly.

ex judicata:  Markus, you also have an MBA.  During your professional development when did you add that to your credentials?

Markus Hartmann:  When I left Hale & Dorr, I went to Proctor & Gamble.  At that point I had come to the conclusion that my long-term goals were probably going to be much better served as an in-house lawyer.  Quite frankly, if you looked at the type of clients that Hale & Dorr supported, I felt that my ability to bring in those kind of clients was going to be somewhat limited.  An In-house role meant rather than ‘delivering legal services as a business’, ‘ supporting a business is the mission’ At P&G, consumer products was the mission.  The MBA helped me to understand what my internal clients found most important.  That starts with the P&L, balance sheet and cash-flow statements. 

And the more I looked at the background and experience of successful business leaders, many had spent their whole career in business, so maybe they didn’t need an MBA.  But for a middle-class kid who had seven years of military background and three years of law school, it just felt like there was a gap in my education.  It wasn’t that I wanted the MBA degree to market myself to Bain, McKinsey or some consulting firm.  I wanted it so I could understand the language of business.  To speak the language of business in order to provide better support to my internal clients.

ex judicata: It makes perfect sense. And one of the things that we’re doing at ex judicata is creating courses for attorneys that want to transition out of the practice of law into business.  The vast majority of attorneys don’t have any kind of basic understanding of finance.  Few, for example, can tell you what a cash-flow statement is.  So, our first course is going to be on financial statements for transitioning attorneys.  It will be taught by a Notre Dame Law School professor.  We’re creating a new kind of content for our audience of attorneys.

Markus Hartmann: I certainly think that is a great target market.  One of my good friends was also a blue-collar kid.  He went to law school, became a partner and prided himself on being the best litigator he could be.  25 years into his career he has issues with the partners managing the firm.  Most of those issues come down to how they are managing the financials.  So, I’d say for any attorney transitioning out of the practice or remaining in law, a basic understanding of the financials is very important.  In the end, most of us are business lawyers.

ex judicata:  YesGetting back to your in-house career what came after Proctor & Gamble?

Markus Hartmann:  I left P&G to go to GE, where I had an opportunity to be an Associate General Counsel. That meant I got to manage outside counsel.  And then when we hired more people internally, I got to manage them too.  I think that made me more credible as a legal leader when I got my first GC job at Aspen Dental.

ex judicata:  That makes perfect sense.  In your career, compliance is a big part of what you’ve done.  In some of your positions you have been a compliance officer where you’re not practicing law at all.

Markus Hartmann:  Yes.  I guess if I can claim any bit of uniqueness, it is from the good fortune that goes with broadening my career by taking non-legal roles and then returning to the law for greater legal leadership positions.  Luck certainly played a role when I was chosen to head up the North American Technical Compliance team for Mercedes-Benz.  German happens to be my first language.  When I was adopted in 1964, my parents had come over from Germany.  My father had worked for Mercedes Benz when he came to this country. 

So, my first true compliance role, was probably with Mercedes Benz.  Mercedes dealt with their diesel emission challenges by taking a cooperative approach with EPA, DOJ and CARB.  Volkswagen had decided that they would take a more confrontational approach with the US government about diesel emissions in their clean diesel engines.  I believe that I was effective in that particular compliance role because of my legal background, my MBA – – – and the German language part certainly didn’t hurt.

Markus Hartmann:  Mercedes basically said to the US government that they wanted to build a best-in-class compliance department to deal with product development in the automobile industry.  Mercedes-Benz decided to adopt the pharmaceutical/medical device company model of compliance.  So, at every stage of product development, engineers were checking in with legal and compliance professional to ensure what they were designing aligned with both the spirit and the letter of the law.  They weren’t just solving the problem in front of them; they were solving the problem in the larger regulatory context.  I just happened to be at the right place at the right time because I was a native German speaker and because I knew a couple of lawyers who were already at Mercedes-Benz.  When I interviewed with Dr. Jürgen Gleichauf, who was the number two lawyer at Mercedes Benz, we hit it off.  He said we want you aboard, here’s your budget and hire a team.  You will need to hire lawyers and engineers.

ex judicata:  I think a lot of people might want to knowwhat the difference is between being a company’s compliance officer versus being in the law department doing compliance work?

Markus Hartmann:  I would say that if you if you’re going to use the title compliance officer as a marker, you’re responsible for an entire program. Lawyers usually have just a limited legal responsibility.  With a compliance program, you start with an annual risk assessment.  And then once you do the risk assessment of the business, you identify the areas where things could go wrong.  You ask the business where are the areas that we have to allocate personnel and resources. 

For example, in pharmaceutical or medical device companies, every time a salesperson interacts with a health care provider there’s an area of risk.  So as a compliance officer, you go from the risk assessment to identifying the areas of risk to then coming up with a mitigation plan to address those areas of risk.  And then you monitor the progress against those areas of risk.  It’s done on an annual basis.  You do it all over again the following year.  I’d say a compliance officer looks at compliance as that sort of magic wheel, that annual calendar.  When a lawyer is involved in compliance activity, sometimes it can be as limited as a labor and employment lawyer confirming that employees get their annual sexual harassment training.  That’s just one element of a total risk program.

ex judicata:  Thanks. That helps a lot and leads to my next question.  If somebody is, let’s say, a young associate in a law firm and they want to move to the business side, compliance often comes up as an area that can provide a natural transition out of the practice of law.  What suggestions or tips might you have for an attorney that wants to transition to business and is thinking compliance as a way.

Markus Hartmann:  I would say be cautious.  If you’re in a law firm and you have the ability to interview with a compliance department it is certainly a way to go in-house.  But if you truly want to transition to business, then you must find your way to a role that has a more direct impact on the P&L of a business.

ex judicata: This is what we were talking about earlier.  Financial fluency.

Markus Hartmann: In some large companies there are a few lawyers who have actually gone to the business side. That is, they’ve taken on discrete roles in, say marketing, and done pretty well.  And now they could be P&L leaders for some of the smaller divisions. So that’s one way to transition to business.  The other way is the pure legal route.  Work in a law firm and somewhere between the 5- and 10-year mark you try to move to a compliance position in a company.

ex judicata: That makes sense.

Markus Hartmann:  I think you want to get as close to the business side as possible. Try to be part of management in the sense that you’re there for weekly meetings where they are going over how much stuff we sold, how much stuff we have left over, here’s our profit, here’s our operational income and here’s how it ties to your bonus.  This is a lot different than being somewhere in the compliance chain or a few levels down in a company’s law department.  You’re not really getting exposure to the business if you can’t see a connection to your work and the P&L.

ex judicata:  At ex judicata we have been speaking with Chief Human Resources Officers around the country.  We started with the 73 Fortune 500 CHRO’s who are lawyers because they, more than a typical HR executive, truly know the value of the JD degree.  They understand when we say JDs should be considered for a wide variety of corporate functions.  Not just things like compliance.  Here we are talking about areas like marketing, investor relations, risk management, employee benefits, fraud & investigations, M&A & strategic planning to name just a few.  This is a big part of the ex judicata mission.

Markus Hartmann:  That certainly resonates with me   Speaking to this I should mention that after my first year at Procter & Gamble, the marketers recruited me.  I became an Assistant Brand Manager for the Tide brand.

ex judicata:  Wow. That’s it.  Exactly what we are talking about.  JDs can be great in that job. 

Markus Hartmann That’s where I got my first real exposure to the pure business side. You know the Tide Stain Pen?

ex judicata: Of course. 

Markus Hartmann:  That was actually my project.  I was on that team.  Procter & Gamble was big enough that they could take a lawyer, who literally had no marketing experience, and weave them into brand management.  It was very intense and probably gave me more business lessons than my MBA.

ex judicata:  Again, that’s what we are talking about.  Real quick, after working as an associate in a Wall Street law firm with absolutely no advertising experience, I was offered an Assistant Account Manager position at Ogilvy & Mather.  Now known simply as Ogilvy I believe.  They understood that as a JD, I knew how to think strategically, issue spot if you will, and write and speak clearly. 

Switching gears let’s talk about JDs with military training. Those with JAG corps experience and those who are officers with law degrees but did not practice in military.  How important was your military training in terms of your own ability to move up the corporate ladder?

Markus Hartmann:  I think the training made me very marketable, There is an inherent leadership skill set that I think you pick up in the military.  And I love the occasional fawning articles in Forbes or Fortune about how great it all is.  My recommendation to anybody coming off active duty right now is that because of their military service they can likely qualify for an MBA program that may be one or two steps above their actual GPA and GMAT.  I think officers who started off at places like the Naval Academy, West Point or the Air Force Academy know a bit of corporate inside baseball before they even put on the uniform.  So, they tend to be able to make a smoother transition to corporate positions.  The blue-collar kids who go to a state school, get their degree and then become officers have a harder transition into corporate America.  They still can absolutely do it; the road is just not as straight or as smooth.

ex judicata:  Then there are model companies like Bank of America.  They have a program where they’ll take men and women out of the military, put them through an internal MBA program and help them throughout their careers move up the ladder

Markus, let’s talk now about people with law degrees who go into the JAG corps and decide they don’t want to practice law.  What might a strategy be to break into positions in corporate America?

Markus Hartmann:  I think we first need to look at the realities for JAG corps attorneys who want to go into private practice.  They’ve litigated for 3 or 4 years.  They’re good in the courtroom, but then they soon realize there is a caste system that goes along with practicing civilian law.  It’s not fair but the top 14 law schools tend to be the feeder schools for the big firms.  And if you didn’t go to one of those law schools, it’s hard to break in unless you are number one or very near the top of your law school class.  So many get off active duty as JAGS and go to prosecutor’s office or to a plaintiff’s firm.  I think if they had some degree of financial literacy from an MBA or even a course or two in financial statements there’s an entire in-house world out there for them.  The combination of legal and military training gives them a leg up on candidates who just have law degrees.

ex judicata:  I see.  On the one hand many JAGS may have a hard time getting a job with an AM Law 100 law firm.  But, on the other hand they are particularly well positioned for transitioning to business positions.

Markus Hartmann: Yes.

ex judicata:  Thank you so much for your time.

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