You are here
Richard T. Clampitt: WD-40 Company
In-house corporate legal professionals often sustain a balance of roles and responsibilities in company environments and Richard T. Clampitt, vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary for WD-40 Company, is no exception. While his experience with the WD-40 brand reflects the requirement of in-house counsel to bear a diverse skillset, his path to his current position can be understated as unusual.
“My experience has been unique and is certainly not a roadmap for a young attorney aspiring to become the general counsel for a prominent public company,” explains Clampitt. His first legal assignments for WD-40 Company came more than three decades ago, when he was working as an attorney with a small firm in San Diego. “The law firm I signed on with out of law school had helped WD-40 Company go public in 1973,” he continues. “My early specialization was in SEC compliance, compiling quarterly and annual reports. The scope of my role expanded over the course of my career to include all manner of business issues, such as vendor contract reviews, development of standardized contracts for international marketing distributors, regulatory matters, compensation planning and governance matters for the board of directors.”
Meanwhile, WD-40 Company grew, acquiring brands such as 3-in-One, Lava Soap, Carpet Fresh, X-14 and 2000 Flushes, Spot Shot, and a few international brands. In 2013, the company decided to add in-house legal counsel in order to better manage its legal needs. The executive team reached out to Clampitt with a job offer and he joined the business full time in 2014.
A formula for success
Clampitt’s day-to-day role is a smorgasbord of functions both in the legal realm and outside of it. While his general counsel responsibilities are manifold, he is a key component of the company’s corporate governance structure as one of seven executive officers. He also serves as the company’s chief compliance officer, providing oversight of operations in regard to regulations and working closely with outside counsel to ensure products and processes are safe, efficient and compliant.
Crossover is the name of the game for Clampitt. As in-house counsel for a company that despite its brand recognition is still fairly small with approximately 450 employees worldwide, he wears several hats. “A lot of larger companies have a separate compliance department, but in smaller midsize companies, there is less ability to afford that distinction,” he elaborates. “I do a lot of crossover — we have to be compliant and lawful in business. And we know what the rules are, but it’s important to imbed that compliance within our company culture and to continually strengthen our ethics and compliance policies. It’s not something we have to change, but I believe it is very important for my role to support a strong tone at the top.” Over the last year, he has been highly involved in developing and rolling out a new code of conduct, which he notes is more consistent with codes of conduct found in larger organizations.
Managing a global market presence
“The day-to-day part, in terms of the management of the business, includes the administration of contracts and attention to cross-functional activities involving quality assurance, research and development, human resources and financial reporting. As general counsel, I have much more of an oversight role than I had as outside counsel,” Clampitt elaborates.
As an example of adding value to cross-functional activities, Clampitt has been working to enhance the company’s internal control over the contracts review and approval process through the use of the Novatus contract management software. “Novatus allows us to maintain a consistent, streamlined process for the review and approval of all of our contracts.”
As for litigation, Clampitt says, “Although we’re involved in very little litigation at this time, my role is to coordinate efforts through outside counsel. We’ve been very successful over the years in avoiding significant legal entanglements. I’m not a litigator by training or experience, but I can be helpful in assessing case strategy and refining the legal arguments.”
Clampitt is also involved in business development activities, such as adding new suppliers and ensuring smooth launch of new products. Most recently, the company has introduced the WD-40 EZ Reach product with a flexible straw that holds its shape, as well as new product offerings in the WD-40 Specialist line.”
WD-40 Company sells directly in established markets in North America, Europe and Asia (Australia and China). The company sells its products through exclusive distribution agents in territories where that approach is more efficient. Clampitt is actively involved in the management of the distributor markets relative to assuring compliance with local and international laws (such as FCPA) and managing the contract relationships.
And while Clampitt’s day-to-day responsibilities are crucial to the function of the organization, one of his greatest concerns is targeted brand protection in a global market where knock-offs have become all too common. With a market presence in 176 countries, there are myriad possibilities for imitation. To counter this dilution of brand purity, Clampitt works with outside counsel, customs agents and other sources the world over to recognize counterfeit products on store shelves and deal with trademark infringement in an effective manner.
Proactive brand protection
“The way I see my role, which reflects how most in-house counsels operate, is to protect the company and stay out of people’s way,” Clampitt notes. “For the most part that’s true on the commercial or regulatory side, but when it comes to brand protection, our teams in the field want to see that we are proactive.”
It can be difficult to see results with trademark protection due to the complexities of counterfeit product production and marketing. “You find a counterfeit product on the shelf, but it doesn’t help all that much to seize 12 cans from a retailer if you don’t have a source,” explains Clampitt. “In some places enforcement isn’t as robust as it is here, where officials can follow the money, tracking sales orders to find out where it’s coming from; so our local associates in many countries use private investigators that specialize in the counterfeit trade.”
But even when these brand protection efforts come up empty-handed, WD- 40’s attention to the issue is at the very least a dissuasion tactic. On top of that, a continued effort to protect WD-40 Company consumers from fraudulent products maintains confidence — both for end users and corporate executives. “On that side of the equation, it is really important we are seen as actively engaged in helping them protect their markets,” says Clampitt.
Protecting a household name is no small task, but Clampitt and his trusted team are up to it. His proactive, coordinated efforts ensure future brand integrity for WD-40 Company’s existing and upcoming product lines.