Christopher Feldmeir, vice president and general counsel of EyeCare Partners, does not have an MBA but after almost two decades working closely with business leaders, he knows what a deal requires from an in-house counsel.
“You have to read the room and listen and process what everybody is driving for to try to find that common thread,” said Feldmeir, who in June 2020 joined the St. Louis company, which provides business support for optometry and ophthalmology practices.
At EyeCare, Feldmeir has spent plenty of time in the room. Since he joined, the company has closed 28 deals to add 102 clinical offices and 11 ambulatory surgical centers to the company’s client base.
Feldmeir was equipped to handle that influx of new business because of his time serving businesses as an attorney at St. Louis law firms. He spent almost a decade representing entities such as franchise systems at Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale and five years as a partner at Lathrop GPM on mergers and acquisitions, among other responsibilities
Feldmeir described his approach as a matter of asking “What are we trying to accomplish and how does the legal analysis impact that? But understanding that it’s just a part of analysis, that there are other factors at play.”
Feldmeir said being in the proverbial room is what excites him professionally.
“As surprising as it may be, sitting in front of a computer and typing out a contract is not what gets the juices flowing,” Feldmeir joked. “But sitting there and actually solving a problem, that’s what I enjoy doing.”
That’s one of the reasons why he moved from serving business clients at Lathrop GPM to working as in-house counsel for an existing client, EyeCare.
In his previous work, a company might reach out and say, “We have issue A that we are trying to deal with and we would like you to weigh in.”
“My hypothesis when I was asked if I wanted to make the transition” to EyeCare was “I am going to be able to do what I like to do a whole lot more if I am in-house,” he said.
His prediction proved correct. During that rush of deals, Feldmeir managed issues concerning contracts, human resources, benefit plans and information technology, he said.
He has faced challenges stemming from the fact that the company isn’t simply taking over a practice but rather partnering with the doctors.
In one case, the doctors were nervous because the contract gave EyeCare partners “the ability to do things at our discretion,” he said. “We had to negotiate very delicately on finding a middle ground where if we needed to make changes in how the business was operated, we could do that,” while also giving “the doctors enough comfort that we weren’t going to get in the middle of how they practice medicine.”
In summary, Feldmeir said, “I have spent my career focused on: no is not an acceptable answer; you figure out a way. And it may be that we can’t do it exactly the way you are looking to, but here is a solution.”