We kicked off our seventh year writing the Manufacturing Law Blog with Megan’s predictions for EH&S and Matt weighed in about labor and employment.  So, now it is my turn:

Sales Growth

You might wonder why I would start a compliance/litigation discussion with a business issue, but for most industrial companies these issues are interrelated.  We have been working with our clients for years in finding ways to develop an approach to sales that will drive revenue while mitigating legal risk.  The most concrete example is encouraging our clients to adopt a contract management system that gives salespeople flexibility while identifying the truly strategic issues that can lead to significant losses.  The secret to success for many manufacturers, particularly those companies that are not “build to print,” is having processes in place at the quotation stage.  How many times have you heard someone say that we should have never taken on a project or that we priced it incorrectly, resulting in many non-recurring expenses that can never be recovered?  With that said, I have seen a lot of manufacturers get control of this process at the outset, and I expect more of the same in 2020.

International Growth

In 2019, we saw a number of international clients invest in their U.S. operations.  I expect this to continue in 2020, due to both a relatively healthy economy and other political forces, such as tariffs.  We have also received a number of calls from international companies that are looking to open up facilities in the United States.  Typically, the first things people would want to talk about is tax planning and corporate structures.  Over the past few years, however, international companies usually want to talk about where their customers are located first, and then delve into issues about building manufacturing facilities and the various regulatory challenges that arise from that event.

Customer/Supply Chain Disputes

We are seeing more business-to-business disputes – particularly in the manufacturing sectors that are struggling.  As a general principle, most manufacturers try to avoid litigation with their customers for obvious reasons.  And the same can be said of suppliers.  There are always bad contracts signed and poor terms and conditions drafted, and if things are going well, companies usually work out their disputes.  In 2020, I would look at a sector like aerospace as a harbinger of things to come.   We all have read about Boeing, but the engine OEMs are also starting to show signs of seeking to renegotiate deals with their suppliers and recover monies owed under long-term agreements.  I expect the supply chain to continue to get squeezed in 2020 and beyond, and I don’t think this will be limited to aerospace.

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Photo of Jeffrey White Jeffrey White

I am a partner at Robinson+Cole who handles corporate compliance and litigation matters for both domestic and international manufacturers and distributors that make and ship products around the world. My clients have ranged from publicly traded Fortune 500 companies to privately held and/or…

I am a partner at Robinson+Cole who handles corporate compliance and litigation matters for both domestic and international manufacturers and distributors that make and ship products around the world. My clients have ranged from publicly traded Fortune 500 companies to privately held and/or family owned manufacturers. For those looking for my detailed law firm bio, click here.

I am often asked why I have focused a large part of my law practice on counseling manufacturers and distributors. As with most things in life, the answer to that question is tied back to experiences I had well before I became a lawyer. My grandfather spent over 30 years working at a steel mill (Detroit Steel Company), including several years in its maintenance department. One of my grandfather’s prime job duties was to make sure that the equipment being used was safe. In his later years, he would apply those lessons learned in every project we did together as he passed on to me his great respect and pride for the manufacturing industry.

Because of these experiences, I not only feel comfortable advising executives in a boardroom, but also can easily transition to the factory floor. My experience has involved a range of industries, including aerospace and defense, chemicals, energy, pharmaceuticals and life sciences, nutritional and dietary supplements, and retail and consumer products. While I have extensive experience in litigation (including product liability and class actions), I am extremely proactive about trying to keep my clients out of the courtroom if at all possible. Specifically, I have counseled manufacturers and distributors on issues such as product labeling and warranties, product recalls, workplace safety/OSHA, anti-trust, and vendor relations, among other things. I always look for the business-friendly solution to a problem that may face a manufacturer or distributor and I hope this blog will help advance those efforts.