Shelly Cooper - IAP Worldwide Services Inc.

An essential part of the business development and decision making team, at home and abroad, for leading government services contractor
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Blake Davis

IAP Worldwide Services Inc. (IAP) is a global leader in government services and national security, expeditionary infrastructure, power solutions, aviation and engineering, information technology (IT), communications and more. From airfields to hospitals, border crossings to remote camps, the multinational corporation works to provide global-scale support to the civilian and defense agencies that help the U.S. and its allies remain strong and secure.

Based in Cape Canaveral, Florida, IAP provides support to the U.S. government, its allies, non-governmental organizations, foreign governments and other clients working in austere environments. As senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary for IAP, Rochelle “Shelly” Cooper applies years of legal, corporate governance and risk-management knowledge and insight to help the global company navigate the dynamic environments in which it operates. Cooper works to uphold IAP’s Value Charter, and her own values centered on people, passion, performance and promises, to ensure every decision IAP makes — at home and abroad — aligns with its overall mission.

Shelly Cooper - IAP Worldwide Services Inc.

Cooper is involved in everything from export and trade compliance to security clearance and access requirements, multinational law compliance, contract review, mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property, employment law, business ethics and more. Whenever there is a conflict, legal query or business development activity, IAP turns to the in-house legal team for solid support.

“With experience, skill, dedication and commitment, the legal team and I take the action necessary to strategize, advise on and implement important business decisions. We’re aligned with the business team and our mission as an organization. We help the business team understand how to adapt to the growing and changing needs of IAP and we work to navigate and mitigate legal and business risks in the diverse business areas we serve,” says Cooper, who has been with IAP for almost four years.

In many ways, Cooper’s previous roles in the world of high-tech, space, aerospace, energy, transportation, power and global communications have shaped and prepared her to be the business leader she is today at IAP.

Leveraging a diverse industry background

She didn’t set out to be a lawyer, but Cooper says she was always interested in advocacy issues and had a knack for public speaking and writing. “I was involved in juvenile justice in high school and I always enjoyed speaking and writing so I decided to go to law school,” she says.

After receiving her Bachelor of Arts with distinction from the University of Virginia in rhetoric and communications studies, Cooper attended the Emory University School of Law. “I originally wanted to merge my law-communications background by pursuing a career in entertainment law, but I also had an interest in litigation. After completing internships with a juvenile court, news studio and government agency, I decided that wasn’t the path I wanted to pursue,” Cooper shares.

Unlike most law professionals starting out, Cooper began immediately in an in-house role with United Technologies Corporation (UTC). “Surprisingly, I never worked in a law firm,” she says. “I did a summer internship with UTC and unlike my previous internships, I realized I wanted to be in an in-house role where I could work side by side with the business development team, operations, contracts, finance, human resources and other business functions.”

UTC offered Cooper a job after graduation and over the course of 13 years she became an integral member of the business team in roles of increasing responsibility not only at the corporate office, but at Hamilton Standard Division, Otis Elevator’s Paris office, Pratt & Whitney and finally at USBI Co. as counsel and corporate secretary.

In-house with IAP

After her time with UTC, Cooper served at United Space Alliance (USA) as vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary. “USA was responsible for the operation and maintenance of multipurpose space systems, including the Space Shuttle and International Space Station,” she says.

Shortly after the Space Shuttle program was shut down, Cooper was contacted by IAP’s former general counsel with an opportunity to join the global business. “I saw a leading services company with a 60-year-long history and a broad spectrum of solutions for the U.S. and international government clients in a wide range of areas,” she says. “I was drawn to IAP’s national security, expeditionary infrastructure, aviation, power and engineering solutions as well as the IT and communications capabilities because I had worked in nearly all of these areas in the past.”

Cooper joined IAP in October 2012. “I saw not only these interesting business areas, but more importantly, passionate people dedicated to meeting customers’ needs and the ingenuity and purpose to solve great challenges,” she says. “I was excited about working for a company doing business worldwide and saw an opportunity to join this global team and apply more than 25 years of in-house counsel experience.”

Supporting international business without walls

The U.S. Government is IAP’s primary customer and the business supports U.S. and international government agencies and organizations around the world, including military installations. IAP’s approximately 2,000 employees operate in more than 100 locations in more than 20 countries. This means Cooper’s experience must play into cross-office and cross-border communication.

“IAP is contracted to provide support services, including expeditionary infrastructure often miles from the comforts of civilization,” explains Cooper. Through infrastructure solutions, disaster relief, power solutions and many other targeted capabilities, IAP’s seasoned teams are globally responsive as they meet the needs of customers, as are Cooper and the IAP legal department.

“We address the applicable U.S. and foreign country laws, rules and regulations as well as contract requirements,” she says. “This could involve any number of areas including labor, employment, real estate, taxes and more.”

Understanding all of these laws and rules is immensely complex. “It’s certainly a challenge, but it’s a good challenge because it keeps us abreast of the ever-changing complex regulatory environment in the U.S. and internationally,” says Cooper.

Following through with due diligence

The U.S. government has recently adopted a governmentwide zero-tolerance policy prohibiting human trafficking, and as a federal contractor IAP must comply with all applicable laws and regulations relating to trafficking in persons. “We have put in place a companywide policy and business practices to comply with the Federal Acquisition Regulations and other applicable requirements, and have implemented these requirements for our employees, contractors and subcontractors,” says Cooper.

Cooper says this regulation goes well beyond sex trafficking, what most people think of when the term trafficking comes into play. “The zero-tolerance policy also prohibits using forced labor in the performance of a contract; destroying, concealing, confiscating or otherwise denying access by an employee to the employee’s identity or immigration documents; using misleading or fraudulent practices during employee recruitment; failing to provide return transport or pay for the cost of return transport upon the end of employment for an employee who is not a national of the country in which the work is taking place; providing or arranging housing that fails to meet the host country’s housing and safety standards; failing to provide an employee contract, recruitment agreement or other required work document in writing. This is a very broad protection of persons regulation.”

For Cooper and her legal team, rules and regulations such as combating trafficking in persons require not only an understanding of all policy points and in-house training, but also the due diligence to ensure that any third-party IAP works with is also in compliance. “Any party we’re doing international business with goes through a rigorous vetting process,” says Cooper.

Acting as a business partner, not barrier

Another global business challenge for Cooper and her team are foreign business registrations and licensing requirements. “These requirements are very different in every country; it’s not as simple as saying, we’ll register here,” she explains. “Sometimes we form a new branch office or establish a subsidiary complying with foreign laws governing how we can conduct business. We help the business team with the strategic alliance process — the strategy on how to bid on an internationally-based contract and manage the cross-border legal obligations that arise from doing business overseas.”

As much as Cooper works to ensure all steps of this process and others are in place, she says, “It’s a delicate balance of saying ‘Yes’ when you can and ‘No’ when you must.”

“The goal of the legal department is not to be an obstacle, but to support the business objectives,” says Cooper. “I’ve found that telling the story, by answering and weighing all of the pros and cons on a specific timeline of possible outcome scenarios and potential risks, is the most effective way to communicate with the business team and achieve this balance. If we fail to provide clear, empathetic counsel, we find it leads to a lack of trust and understanding, instead of upholding the legal team as the trusted business advisors we want to be.”

Cooper expands, “I truly enjoy working with the business team to establish strategy, business terms and what type and how much risk is acceptable. As opposed to someone working in a law firm, I and my team function as trusted business advisers and have the opportunity to work on a wide range of issues in a dynamic environment.”

Over the course of Cooper’s career, her interests and role expanded beyond pure law, and she has led contracts, ethics and compliance, security, global trade compliance, internal audit, and risk and insurance departments. She has served as corporate secretary and continues to do so today at IAP, which provides for interface with and the opportunity to support IAP’s governance, audit and compensation committees and board of directors.

Upholding and living core values

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of Cooper’s role is to ensure that every legal and business decision takes into consideration IAP’s strong sense of culture as reflected in the company’s Values Charter. IAP’s culture revolves around the Values Charter — positive thought, trust, teamwork and passion preserve a cycle of personal and professional growth. IAP and its employees have an unyielding commitment to their customers and their mission, a fierce determination to succeed and the deep-rooted knowledge that they are supporting those who keep our nation and allies strong and secure.

“As a leader and a teammate, I believe in the ‘Four Ps’ which align with IAP’s Values Charter,” says Cooper. “People: we take care of people though development, recognition, security and safety. IAP’s values include acting with integrity and humility. The passion part is that everybody here truly believes in the company’s mission, and IAP and its employees are passionately committed to the success of every customer’s mission. One of IAP’s values is to allow ourselves and others to be happy and successful.”

On performance, Cooper explains, “IAP’s values include partnering with colleagues, customers and the community for our mutual success. That relates to performance. Performance is a given, an expectation, not an entitlement. Promises: very simply, this means that promises made are promises kept. Customers around the world rely on IAP to deliver solutions to their most demanding challenges. I’m fortunate to come to work every day and know that IAP’s culture really revolves around this Values Charter and that I get to work with people who have commitment and fierce dedication.”

IAP has launched a new employee program — IAP Values Champions — to recognize employees who fully embrace the Values Charter. “Nominations are based on behavior and performance that demonstrate a commitment to multiple IAP Values, events or incidents where individuals bring IAP Values to life and circumstances where an employee assists others in applying IAP Values in their own lives,” outlines Cooper.

When she is not focused on her work with IAP, Cooper is involved in many local and national industry groups and professional associations. She is a member of the Association of Corporate Counsel, American Bar Association, Executive Mosaic, National Contract Management Association, the Society for International Affairs, National Defense Industrial Association and is often a speaker on panels and at conferences. Cooper also serves on the board of directors of the Health First Foundation.

Cooper dedicates a great deal of her time to philanthropy projects and family, including her husband and their 18-year-old twins who will start college this fall. “We love to be outside, whether it’s kayaking, scuba diving or playing tennis,” she says.

This love for the outdoors translates to Cooper’s work with several conservation organizations, such as the local Brevard Zoo, whose mission is wildlife conservation through education and participation and the affiliated Women of the Wild (WOW) which accomplishes positive change by raising awareness and garnering support for critical conservation initiatives around the world.

This work-life balance is important to Cooper as she continues not only to lead the legal department, but also to be integrally involved in the business development discussions that go hand in hand with IAP’s uniquely challenging business model. Shelly Cooper and the legal team practice an unyielding commitment to customers, as well as a deep understanding of the company’s mission overall, as IAP Worldwide Services Inc. uses ingenuity and purpose in seeking and solving the toughest challenges facing the nation and its allies. 

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP
Greenberg Traurig LLP
Jenner & Block LLP
Smith Pachter McWhorter