James L. McCulloch
| Forum Energy Technologies
Executive vice president, general counsel and secretary
A veteran lawyer in the offshore energy sector, James L. McCulloch has worked for over 40 years in different aspects of the industry along the Gulf Coast. This includes his early years in private practice to his long tenure in-house as general counsel at GlobalSantaFe Corporation, through to his current role as executive vice president, general counsel and secretary at Forum Energy Technologies. Highlights of his celebrated career include the recovery of in excess of $1bn in litigation and insurance recoveries. He highlights that, ‘some of these came during a very difficult period for the company, during the depths of the depression in offshore drilling in the 1980s, and contributed to its ability to remain a going concern’. The recoveries ranged from take-or-pay contract disputes in the US to charter party and drilling contract litigation and arbitration in the US and the UK, and to hull and machinery and business interruption insurance recoveries. He identifies that ‘these experiences sharpened my ability to recognise both risk and opportunity, as well as my negotiating skills. Knowledge of corporate governance, securities, and finance are critical attributes for general counsel, but deep experience in litigation is an often overlooked but critical factor in a well-rounded general counsel’. McCulloch has throughout his career led legal teams and worked alongside executive management and boards in two mergers, including Forum’s IPO in 2012. When he joined Forum Energy Technologies he started with an ‘empty desk’ without any policies, charters, or governance procedures, and he was the entire department. He highlights that he ‘learned quickly that overseeing a legal function staffed by excellent lawyers is completely different than trying to build one from scratch. I have taught my lawyers that we are a service department to a service organisation, and we have to help our operations people respond quickly, cooperatively and positively to customer demands. We have to run as quickly as our sales people do, and we have to find ways to get to “yes” if we can. We have to be seen as added value that our company relies on, and not a function to be avoided’. McCulloch has led the company through the turbulent economic downturn and energy market shrinkage since 2014, and ensured the legal department manages its workload and strategy without losing headcount or capacity. Through deft management of the use of outside counsel and overall corporate strategy, the company has been well placed to manage the recent upturn in the energy market’s fortune in the Gulf. As advice to other general counsel, McCulloch explains that ‘the only lonelier position in a company than as general counsel is as CEO. The CEO needs a trusted advisor and confidante, and the general counsel should seek to fill that role. You need to prove your ability to keep things confidential, you need to express an interest and advice on issues beyond legal matters, and you need to act in way that earns the confidence of the CEO each day’.