EMC’s Paul T. Dacier Continues Tradition of Excellence as Boston Bar President
As the Boston Bar Association navigates the 21st Century, who better to lead this august institution than a lawyer from the world of cloud computing and big data? Meet Paul T. Dacier, Executive Vice President and General Counsel of EMC Corporation (EMC) and the first in-house counsel ever to serve as President of the BBA. He succeeds J.D. Smeallie of Holland & Knight.
A classic big-picture thinker and thought leader who cares passionately about the role of the judiciary as an independent and co-equal branch of government, Dacier has the courage of his convictions and will tell you exactly what he’s thinking. Here’s what he thinks about often -- how to secure adequate funding for the judicial branch and why the right to a jury trial is sacrosanct for both businesses and individuals. A good listener who insists on knowing the law and facts at hand before making his case, he doesn’t mind telling you that he is not a big fan of private dispute resolution systems that produce no precedents.
A Leader with an Unwavering Commitment to Justice and the Constitution
Whatever he commits to, Dacier takes seriously. That includes his service as a member of the Judicial Nominating Commission during the Romney administration, where he forged good working relationships with fellow commissioners, regardless of their political leanings. That also includes his role as an advocate for the Business Litigation Session as a competitive advantage for Massachusetts, and his service as a member of the advisory committee for the Business Litigation Session.
“Paul Dacier is at the very top of my list of advocates and supporters of the court system,” says Chief Justice Barbara J. Rouse of the Massachusetts Superior Court. “He is a tireless advocate, an informed advocate, and a tenacious advocate. He has a very real appreciation for the Rule of Law, and you are always made to feel the well-being of the court system is uppermost in his mind. It’s amazing to me that for someone who has as much responsibility as he does in his ‘day job,’ that he finds the time that he does to advocate for the court system.”
He’s especially passionate about civic education and has been seen carrying a copy of the Massachusetts Constitution, usually open to a section that talks about the Judiciary. He’s deeply troubled that there are people who don’t grasp the concept of balance of powers and people prone to making misguided comments suggesting that the judicial branch is “just another state agency.”
“Our country and its democratic system of three co-equal branches of government is synonymous with the rule of law,” says Dacier. “It is imperative that the Judiciary is treated as a co-equal branch of government and that it is adequately funded. If we cannot fund and maintain a strong and vibrant Juciciary, we put at risk the checks and balances in our government that make our democracy the envy of the world. Also, we need to ensure there are jurists who can fairly administer and implement the rule of law.”
Dacier’s story is that of a kid who grew up in Hudson, Massachusetts, and still remembers that none of his working class grandparents could afford to purchase homes. He lives with humility, always reminding himself how blessed he is. He also functions on all cylinders with very little sleep.
Leading by example, he believes that civility is essential, from the board room to the courtroom, and places great value on reaching out to those whose views differ from his own. “A lawyer can win on the facts and the law without being discourteous to opposing counsel,” he says. “A lack of civility is denigrating to the legal profession and to our system of justice.”
Dacier’s story is also that of a current events buff growing up with an interest in government, the law, and business. In 7th grade he was the only kid in Sister Julie Vincent’s class at St. Michael’s School who could identify world leaders like Richard Nixon, Leonid Brezhnev, and Henry Kissinger. So much so, that she would ask “Doesn’t anybody besides Dacier read the newspaper?” before going on to remind her students “there’s more to the world than baseball, hockey and Hudson, Massachusetts.”
As an 8th grader he began reading proxy statements, after his father gave him 100 shares of ITT stock so he could better understand the market. Noting Felix Rohatyn’s poor attendance, the 14 year old Dacier voted to oust the New York financier from ITT’s Board.
These days Dacier begins his day with the Wall Street Journal, and makes a point of listening to WBUR, Boston’s NPR affiliate. In the evening he reads The Boston Globe and The New York Times before he and his wife Kim tune into Dan Rea’s Nightside on WBZ-Radio or Piers Morgan on CNN. He also makes time to read two weeklies, his current hometown paper, The Dover Sherborn Press, and The Economist.
A Lawyer Whose Mantra is “Do the Right Thing”
In the course of answering questions for his profile as BBA President, Dacier facilitated interviews with leaders at the highest echelons of EMC Corporation, lawyers who have served as outside counsel for EMC, an investment banker who has done deals with EMC, and also the pastor of his church. To a person, each spoke of his integrity, his insistence on transparency, his extraordinary work ethic, his commitment to the community, and his leadership talents – all essential to a bar association that puts a premium on excellence and values its reputation as a trusted member of the community.
David Strohm, EMC’s Lead Director, says this: “Paul is viewed by his peers on the leadership team as a seasoned business advisor who knows EMC’s business extraordinarily well. He has an powerful sense of what I would describe as ‘do the right thing,’ and in the advice he gives to senior management it is always understood that he is incorporating that ‘do the right thing’ perspective into his advice.”
Underscoring the high esteem in which the EMC board holds Dacier, Strohm speaks to other leadership qualities demonstrated by the incoming BBA president, including his ability to ensure that discussions stay on track and that when sensitive topics arise that they are addressed in the appropriate forum.
Strohm adds: “One of the hallmarks of Paul’s leadership is that he has paid enormous attention to recruiting and growing key people under him. He’s got a strong bench of attorneys, and he is deliberate about delegating clear responsibility to them. Paul does a terrific job between walking the fine line of delegating responsibility – insisting on the highest standards of work – and reviewing key matters himself.”
Two of EMC’s Deputy General Counsel, Krish Gupta and Susan Permut, speak to the high standards exemplified by Paul. “One of the things I’ve learned from Paul is that it takes a lot of thoughtfulness and strength of conviction to be a good leader in a company as complex and as big as ours. On a regular basis, he demonstrates his insistence on adhering to his principles and values as he advises the business on issues that come across his desk,” says Gupta. “Another thing I have learned from Paul is that a strong leader creates a culture of very high ethical standards.”
Permut reflects on the Corporate Governance Team of the Year (large cap) award EMC won under Paul’s leadership in 2009, edging out Intel, Monsanto, General Mills and Pepsi. Having said that “governance is a relationship field, and you need to establish good relationships over a long period of time in order to have things work well,” she points to the fact that Paul and his team work hard to build and maintain trust among shareholders.
As Dacier says, “We may not always agree with what they have to say and they may not always agree with us, but we do believe that there is a right way to deal with people, and that is by talking to them openly and honestly.” To see him run a BBA meeting is to see the same civility, respectfulness and transparency in action.
From Hudson, MA to Milwaukee, WI and Home Again
By 1976, Dacier had graduated from Hudson High School, set off for Marquette University in Milwaukee, and remained at Marquette for law school. During law school he worked as an intern at the state public defender’s office, as a clerk for a state court judge, and as a research associate to one of the deans, where his project focused on religious civil rights in the work place.
Upon graduating from law school in 1983, he accepted a job with a small litigation firm in suburban Milwaukee. But he also kept his eye on the prize – working for a company where he could acquire business acumen.
The opportunity came in 1984, when he was one of 400 applicants selected for a job in the 10 lawyer legal department of Apollo Computer in Chelmsford. The company’s general counsel, an Eagle Scout named John Jewett, rarely hired applicants with no experience in the technology industry. Impressed that Dacier had earned the rank of Eagle Scout, a tribute to his good character and independence, he made an exception, and never regretted his choice.
By his own account Dacier worked 100 hour weeks learning the technology business and corporate and securities law, while ensuring that things were done in a legally sound way. Six years later, Apollo got acquired by Hewlett Packard. Even as he worked very hard to make that transaction happen, he knew that by 1990 he would be out of a job.
Dacier Moves to EMC
Dacier has a great appreciation for irony. Were it not for the eminently practical Kim Dacier, then his fiancé, he might have passed up an opportunity that changed his world forever. It was the fall of 1989, and their wedding was less than a year away. After an introduction by Tom Vanderslice, the Board Chairman of Apollo, Dacier got a job interview with EMC founder Dick Egan. Soon thereafter EMC offered him the job, but he turned it down.
After learning that her husband-to-be had declined the offer, Kim asked him where he was planning to work when his Apollo job ended. He punted, saying he had a couple of options, to which she countered: “Paul, do you have a job?”
The incoming BBA President remembers the conversation like it was yesterday: “That was one of the few times I broke into a sweat. Fortunately EMC called me back to ask me why I’d said ‘no,’ re-offered me the job, and that was the fastest job acceptance you’ll ever know.”
In 1990 EMC was a relatively small company with 750 employees and sales of $160 million, trying to compete with giants like IBM. The company owned just one patent. Paul was its only in-house lawyer, and began with the title of corporate counsel. It started off as a typical in-house practice, Massachusetts-centric.
Evolution of a Legal Practice from Statewide to Worldwide
Today, Dacier represents EMC as a global company with 60,000 employees and revenues of $22 billion. The company’s value is north of $50 billion. He has more than 300 employees working for him, including 115 attorneys in the legal department.
The company now owns thousands of patents, and Dacier lets it be known EMC will not shy away from its right to a jury trial in the face of meritless suits claiming patent infringement. He sees this as protecting the interests of EMC shareholders, and according to a recent article in an American Lawyer publication, he usually prevails in court.
Joe Tucci, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of EMC, explains why Dacier is such a valued member of Team EMC. At its heart and soul a technology company, EMC invests 12 per cent of revenues in Research & Development, and 10 per cent of its revenues in acquiring other technology companies.
“Paul has worked with some of our biggest customers as their executive sponsor, he has worked with our engineers to help patent and protect our intellectual property,” says Tucci. “Paul is a true leader not only in his own area, but he will jump in to help in other areas that go beyond legal issues.”
Dacier also plays a major role in effectively negotiating and closing key acquisitions, and works to get them successfully integrated so they remain dynamic businesses going forward. As just one example of his work to spread EMC’s culture of community involvement, Paul earlier this year invited a visiting lawyer from VMWare, an EMC subsidiary in Silicon Valley, to accompany him to a reception honoring the winners of the BBA Beacon Award for Diversity and Inclusion.
Dacier’s Personal Connection to the BBA
“The BBA is a very hallowed organization to me, especially when I sit in the Council room and look at past presidents of this organization,” says Dacier. “I’m in awe of the people who have come before me that have led this organization and have affected the establishment of democracy – not only here in Massachusetts – but in the United States in general.”
Dacier was elected to the BBA Council in 2007, but prior to that was in demand as a speaker. In 2008, he co-chaired the BBA Strategic Planning Committee, and in 2010 was named a member of the BBA Executive Committee. In 2011, he was elected BBA Vice President, and in 2012 he was elected President-Elect, making his ascension to the presidency automatic on September 1, 2013.
He encourages lawyers in EMC’s Hopkinton office to participate in BBA activities, and enrolled EMC’s legal department as a BBA Sponsor Member. He is also an Executive Fellow of the Boston Bar Foundation.
Dacier gives so much time to the BBA because he believes it is the “premiere bar association in America.” He believes wholeheartedly in its mission. Ask him about the presidential legacy he wants to leave, and his response is straightforward:
“I want to be able to say that I did the very best I could do for the BBA, and that I adhered scrupulously to its mission to advance the highest standards of excellence for the legal profession, facilitate access to justice, and serve the community at large. I can’t think of a higher calling.”