“I think acquisitions are fun.” Christopher Javillonar seems to have found the right gig, then.
The general counsel for wheelchair and seating system design and manufacturer Permobil has overseen nearly two acquisitions a year since coming to the company in 2014. Permobil has continued to expand quickly, acquiring Ottobock’s OBSS and NUTEC custom seating business assets in the US and Canada as well as MAX Mobility in January 2018, Comfort Company in October 2017, and Prairie Seating in January 2017. Although the company recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, it shows no signs of aging as it continues to widen its geographic footprint and diversify its portfolio.
For Javillonar, approaching each acquisition with the right mentality is the first step in navigating what can often be a challenging process. “I don’t like to do things the same way just because that’s how they’ve always been done,” Javillonar says. “I like to look at a problem fresh.” That can mean a number of different things in his approach, but it almost always means a willingness to be flexible.
“Sometimes if we’re acquiring a company and it had a better template or contract, I don’t mind adapting and saying I’m going to take the best of any part that we come across,” Javillonar says. “If there’s a better way, I’m about being adaptable and flexible as long as the overall impact is positive to the organization.”
Javillonar says pride can often cloud decision-making during what can be a sensitive transition. Keeping both the acquirer and acquiree in mind as equal parts of the new organization is key, he says. “You have to be willing to set aside your own agenda,” he says. “What really needs to drive you is the question, ‘Is this better for the company overall? Will this keep employees and the company safer?’”
“I don’t like to do things the same way just because that’s how they’ve always been done.”
Adaptability is also key for the legal team at Permobil, as Javillonar says the department is often required to wear more than just a legal hat. “We have to understand the business and that our role is not merely to find all the problems with what the business wants to do,” Javillonar says. “We need to find a way to help facilitate and make the business objectives a reality with the least risk possible.”
In terms of minimizing risk, especially in such a heavily regulated industry, Javillonar says that Permobil makes his job fairly easy. “We’re fortunate to be working for this company that absolutely values quality in our products,” he says. “I tend to look at a lot of these risks like, if this was your mother, father, or someone in your family that’s near and dear to you using one of our products, would you feel safe with them in that chair or using that medical device? For me, the answer is always yes.”
Legal’s focus on adaptability is especially necessary when integrating a new company into the fold. Javillonar says that while acquisitions can often be long and taxing, it’s usually just the beginning of a successful integration.
The department’s role is not only to handle the nuts and bolts of the transition, but also how to make the new extension of the company feel welcome. “We’re the legal department and we’re here to help,” Javillonar says. “People coming into the company during an acquisition need to cast aside previous thoughts of how the legal department worked and understand that we’re here to help facilitate and reach their objectives, not impede them. Now that we’re on the same team, let us know your objectives.”
Javillonar says maintaining positive relationships with outside counsel is also a vitally important part of his role that he takes seriously. “I feel like that’s part of my job, to vet a lot of outside counsel so that we can immediately call upon them as needed,” Javillonar says. “Our outside firm becomes an extension of our team. They need to buy in to what we do and feel like they’re one of us.”
The fact that Javillonar has become an acquisitions expert is a testament to his own flexibility, having come from a litigation-heavy background. He says he still draws on that experience in his in-house role. “In either role, you want to be indispensable to the organization,” Javillonar says. “You want the various business units to say, ‘We need legal’s input on this.’”
Transparency and communication are what keep his team running at peak performance, Javillonar says. And as Permobil continues to expand, he’s confident that legal’s role will be to continue partnering with the business. “The company has changed tremendously in my four years. I think that trajectory is going to continue in the next four years and beyond,” Javillonar says. “I look forward to helping it along.”