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Ingevity Legal Chief Takes Early Retirement in Covid-19 Cost-Cut

June 22, 2020, 10:42 PM

Ingevity Corp., a specialty chemical manufacturer seeking to cut costs and reduce staff as a result of the coronavirus crisis, will see its first-ever top in-house lawyer take early retirement.

The company announced Monday that executive vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary Kathy Pryor Burgeson will retire and be replaced on an interim basis by current deputy general counsel Ryan Fisher, who also serves as chief legal officer for Ingevity’s performance chemicals segment.

While no permanent replacement has yet been chosen for Burgeson, Ingevity spokeswoman Laura Woodcock told Bloomberg Law that Fisher will be considered for the full-time general counsel position. Fisher himself didn’t respond to a request for comment on the matter.

Ingevity announced a cost-reduction initiative, attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic, on June 2. Its measures include decreasing outside spending on consultants and services, reducing benefits for salaried employees, restructuring and reducing employee head count through the implementation of an early retirement program, and streamlining manufacturing processes by furloughing other workers.

Woodcock confirmed that Burgeson’s departure is part of that previously announced initiative, which is available to employees who meet certain minimum age and length of service requirements.

“After almost 40 years of practicing law, this seemed like a good time to take advantage of the early retirement program as part of the cost-saving initiative,” Burgeson said in a statement.

Through Woodcock, Burgeson told Bloomberg Law she’s looking forward to deciding on her next endeavor and spending more time with her family. Both of her children recently relocated to area near Charleston, South Carolina, where Ingevity is based.

Bloomberg data shows that Burgeson owns nearly $851,000 in Ingevity stock. The company disclosed in its 2019 proxy statement that it paid more than $1.4 million in total compensation to her last year, including $645,292 in cash.

Burgeson will remain with Ingevity “for a mutually determined transition period and currently her retirement date has not yet been determined,” according to a June 22 securities filing by the company. Ingevity said it will disclose Burgeson’s retirement pay and benefits package once that date in finalized.

Road to Ingevity

Burgeson has served as Ingevity’s legal chief since late 2015.

Ingevity became an independent, publicly traded company in May 2016 after it was spun off from Atlanta-based WestRock Co., a packaging giant formerly known as MeadWestvaco Corp. WestRock was created in 2015 after Rock-Tenn Co. acquired Richmond, Va.-based MeadWestvaco in a $9.2 billion deal.

Burgeson spent 15 years in-house at MeadWestvaco, where she was deputy general counsel prior to becoming Ingevity’s legal chief. She began her legal career in the early 1980s as an associate at Shearman & Sterling in New York before joining Cummings & Lockwood in Stamford, Conn., where she spent over a decade as a corporate partner representing public companies and private equity firms.

Ingevity interim president and CEO Richard Kelson praised Burgeson in a statement for playing an “integral role in the spin and launch” of the company, while also crediting her for her “great leadership and commitment to establishing a strong culture of compliance” and “leading the defense of our Performance Materials’ intellectual property.”

Kelson added that Burgeson leaves behind a legal department “poised for future success” and wished her well in retirement.

Fisher, Burgeson’s interim successor as general counsel, joined Ingevity before its spin off in early 2016 after almost a decade in-house at MeadWestvaco. Fisher joined the company in 2006, having previously worked in private practice at Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge and Cummings & Lockwood, Burgeson’s former law firm.

Bloomberg Law data shows that Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher has handled nearly 17% of Ingevity’s U.S. litigation work since its inception. Ingevity has also paid $130,000 to Holland & Knight since early 2019 for the firm to lobby at the federal level on environmental issues and alternative fuel vehicles.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com