Vice President and General Counsel
Watlow Electric Manufacturing Company
In 2010, when Dave McCool joined Watlow, a thermal-systems manufacturer headquartered in St. Louis County, he found himself for the first time at a privately held company.
“It was smaller,” said McCool, who by then had worked in-house at Solutia, Inc. and Emerson Electric. “But it was every bit as complex.”
McCool was hired as vice president and general counsel at Watlow, which designs and manufactures industrial heaters, temperature sensors, controllers and related software. He remains in these positions today and oversees a senior counsel in St. Louis and two attorneys in satellite offices who focus on global trade compliance.
McCool’s philosophy for the legal department is to be a full-fledged, growth-minded business partner while also watching out for pitfalls.
“You’ve got to find that sweet spot between enabling strategy and not accepting undue risks,” he said.
McCool was one of the players behind a shift at Watlow to start incorporating mergers and acquisitions into the company’s long-term business strategy. He helped to create a steering team that began to systematically scan for targets. He has structured, documented and negotiated complex acquisitions and integrations of certain industry-leading businesses, including an elastomeric bonding company in Silicon Valley.
“You can only grow so fast organically, no matter who you are,” he said. “Acquisitions is a great way to accelerate growth. Over the last five to 10 years, we’ve done a good job of prioritizing that.”
One of the reasons McCool came in with an acquisitive mindset is that it was his original passion right out of law school. In 1991, after earning his J.D. from Northwestern University, he cut his teeth at Bryan Cave, where he practiced heavily in mergers and acquisitions, as well as in corporate finance and securities transactions, the structuring and implementation of corporate reorganizations and the drafting and negotiating of complex commercial contracts.
He was forced to become more of a generalist upon moving over to Emerson in 1995. He stayed there until 2003. While he still was involved in major deals, he also managed outside counsel on a diverse litigation caseload and negotiated a wide variety of contracts. McCool continued to broaden his horizons at Solutia, where he practiced from 2003 to 2009. He was instrumental there in executing a reorganization that allowed the company to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy and get relisted on the New York State Exchange.
At Watlow, McCool handles far more than M&A. He is involved in managing trade compliance, litigation and issues ranging from real estate to labor and employment. He also works to develop and implement the company’s intellectual property strategy. With more than 1,000 patents worldwide and customers all over the globe, McCool said, hardly a day goes by that Watlow isn’t involved in high-stakes IP challenges.
“We don’t shy away from enforcing our IP, and that includes not just patents but also our brands and trademarks,” McCool said. “We’ve had to take on some pretty big infringers and do our homework to make sure we were well-positioned before grabbing them by the tail.”
McCool and his wife have two children. His youngest is a sophomore at St. Louis University High School. His daughter Ellie, 21, has Rett syndrome, a rare neurodevelopmental disorder that affects girls almost exclusively and results in a loss of motor function. For the past five or six years, he said, the family has focused on advocating for Rett Syndrome research and raising funds for the Rett Spectrum Clinic, which is a collaboration between Washington University School of Medicine and St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
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