Interviewed by Michelle Hundley
In this month’s young professional profile, we sat down with Martha Landwehr, General Counsel for the Texas Chemical Council, a statewide trade association of chemical manufacturing facilities in Texas. Currently, 68 member companies produce vital products for our way of life, fulfill educational and quality-of-life needs and provide employment and career opportunities for more than 74,000 Texans at over 200 separate facilities across the state. Their combined economic activity sustains nearly a half-million jobs for Texans.
Tell us more about the Texas Chemical Council.
Organized in 1953, the Texas Chemical Council (TCC) was the country’s first state trade association that represented the chemical industry’s common interests at the state level. The primary concern then was to present a unified position on the issue of taxes being proposed on the industry. As the chemical industry grew in size and importance to Texas, TCC expanded to represent the Texas chemical industry in many other important areas such as environmental protection, health and safety issues, tort reform and energy policy.
Each TCC member company appoints a top executive to serve as a liaison with the association. The business and affairs of the Council are managed by a Board of Directors whose members are chosen from among these member-company representatives. TCC maintains a full-time Austin office with a professional staff that work with the Texas Legislature and state agencies, and provides services to council members. TCC staff members focus the vast technical expertise of member-company employees through an established committee structure to give effective input to the legislative and regulatory processes.
Can you explain what you do at TCC?
I serve as General Counsel to the organization and represent our industry to legislators and regulators by advocating on behalf of the overall interests of the chemical industry in Texas.
This is a specialized job and group, were you always interested in the chemical industry?
No, I initially wanted to study journalism. In high school, I worked on the yearbook and was involved in the school’s broadcast media initiatives. We had daily, current event news broadcasts for the school.
In college I began taking classes in journalism. I liked focusing on communications but became interested in government, too. I liked how government was the intersection of history, philosophy, and human behavior. I was also able to dig a little bit deeper into the historical aspects of government and the social patterns of people, much more than journalism allowed; which really fascinated me.
At the end of the day, government relations is about people and how we interface with each other. I think that is why I enjoy it so much.
It sounds like you are interested in people and their relationships. Is that what led you to law school?
Actually, timing and circumstance led me to law school. I graduated with my undergraduate degree in December of 2008. Unfortunately, it was in the middle of the great recession. I knew I wanted to go to graduate school because I really didn’t see a steady future with a bachelor’s degree, or even a master’s degree, in government.
I considered different graduate school opportunities such as studying urban design or receiving master’s degree in public policy.. I finally came to the conclusion, that although I knew I didn’t want to practice law, a law degree would provide the best flexibility and open the most doors with numerous opportunities.
I have learned over the years that you often adapt and change. We live in a transitional state; and we have to quickly adapt to be successful.
I received my undergraduate degree from UT-Austin, so it made sense to go to law school there too. I loved how it was a reflection of the relationships between various people and you can identify what the relationship is through the law. Again, it really fed into my love of people and relationships.
So, why aren’t you practicing traditional courtroom law?
I did have the opportunity to complete an internship with Judge Lee Yeakel, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas while a second year law student. I really enjoyed the opportunity to see how the court system works. It was a wonderful learning experience, but I knew pretty quickly that wasn’t what I wanted to do.
It was my third year in law school that I was provided the opportunity to participate in the Legislative Lawyering Law Clinic with Professor Hugh Brady. The Clinic is designed to teach law students how to become effective legislative lawyers. Legislative lawyers combine substantive legal knowledge with political understanding to produce good law and good policy while advancing their clients’ goals.
After that opportunity I worked for the Texas House of Representatives, Committee on Natural Resources as a legal analyst. It was there that I learned the importance of expanding your network. I had to rely on other people to provide me with the information I needed to share with the committee. I quickly had to distinguish between a source I could legitimately rely on and a source I could not rely on, as well as identify who were truly subject matter experts. It was a great exercise on efficient networking.
What is your biggest challenge at the TCC?
Being General Counsel you get to dive in an inch deep and a mile wide. There are just a vast number of issues that our industry is involved in or faced with. It really is difficult at times to have the time and opportunity to really dig in deep into a specific issue. This is where I rely on my networking skills and the contacts I made while working on the committee.
Another challenge is the subject matter. I am not a chemical engineer, and so learning the language of what happens at these facilities is a huge challenge. But, I really am fascinated by the industry and I love to learn about them. In addition, our members are so gracious and generous with information. They are always willing to lend a hand and explain the nuances of their industry to me. We have fantastic members!
What do you love most about your job?
I love how it is extremely dynamic. I get the opportunity to wear a different hat every day, work with a huge number of people, play different roles, interface with regulators and legislative members, and all the folks in the plants that live and breathe these issues every day.
We have so many subject matter experts that have history in these plants and within the industry. I often act as an interpreter between the regulators, legislators, and facility experts at times. For example, I would take what an engineer says, filter it through a legal perspective and then communicate it to a staff member, regulator, etc. I feel that I am identifying relationships and helping them develop further. It’s satisfying to know that what I do makes a difference.
Do you have any advice you would like to share with other young professionals that may be interested in this subject matter or area?
First, this is a highly technical and complex area. Be aware that people you first meet are always skeptical of your competence. Just embrace it – understand you don’t need to overcompensate for that, be somewhat vulnerable to people and lean out and reach out for help. But keep in mind you do need to be well versed and schooled up the subject matter to your abilities, so utilize your resources. People like to feel that they are helpful, so ask. If you don’t know something, own up to it. Don’t be a know-it-all to show your knowledge, be humble about your knowledge and ask for help when you need it and grateful when you receive it.
Second, in my case, this industry is still predominantly male, and the legislative world can also be a bit challenging. So, you need to have not just a mentor, but a promoter. I am really lucky to have such a great boss! He does that for me; he leads the way, not only in making business connections, but he also regularly shows he has confidence in me and my abilities in front of others.
When I first started here, I was not fully familiar with the chemical industry. Now, I can’t express how much respect I have for this industry. How complex the processes are, and how hard everyone in the industry works, and how much they take what they do to heart. I often feel it falls on deaf ears to people who aren’t familiar with the industry. Yes, it is inherently dangerous, but people in the industry take everything personally and take full responsibility for everything they do. I’ve learned so much and have the utmost respect for everyone I have encountered. I am blessed to be a part of this world.