It may seem a little odd that a man with Kenneth Cutshaw's impressive r?sum? ended up as the general counsel of Church's Chicken. After all, it's not every day that a man who can fly a plane and has worked for three presidents elects to lead the legal department at a fast-food restaurant chain. But for Cutshaw, the position was the perfect fit.
This is just a small taste of what Cutshaw has accomplished during the past three decades: In 1982 he served as the senior counsel of the World's Fair in Tennessee. In 1985 he received appointments in the U.S. Department of Commerce under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Today, he serves on the advisory commission for international economic policy under President George W. Bush. In 2000 the government of India asked Cutshaw to serve as its honorary consul, and today he is the only foreign lawyer who is a member of the Bar Association of India. He was a partner at Holland & Knight and also serves as a dean and co-owner of Georgian American University in Tbilisi, Georgia--the former Soviet bloc country's only J.D. program. Oh, and he also has gone on mountaineering expeditions on six continents.
So why Church's? Well, the food business is in his blood. Cutshaw grew up on a farm in Tennessee and helped out in his family's flourmill business by packing flour and delivering eggs to local restaurants. As Cutshaw chased down a career in law, he also helped orchestrate two successful restaurant enterprises. But the main reason he picked Church's is that he has always wanted to be a general counsel. He just took a less conventional path to get there than most in-house lawyers.
Q: So after all of your experiences, why Church's Chicken?
A: I've always had an interest in the challenges of a general counsel position and working closely with the management of a company, which was probably sparked by my four years in-house with the World's Fair.
Q: What does the senior counsel for the World's Fair do?
A: Everything from handling the international agreements with the countries that participated to being part of the management team where I would have responsibility for the entire site for a 24-hour period.
Q: Any horror stories from the fair?
A: One exciting day was the national holiday for the government of China. Without informing us, they closed their exhibit. Because that was the most popular exhibit at the 1982 World's Fair, it created some public relations challenges. We had people waiting for 2 to 3 hours in line to go into an exhibit that wasn't even open. So that was the one day that I gave out a lot of free passes.
Q: Besides your desire to go in-house, what else attracted you to Church's?
A: The other issue is somewhat unusual, but I have a strong affiliation with the country of India and I serve as honorary consul. The CEO of Church's is an Indian-American from Mumbai. This passion for India created another opportunity for us to work together. So that also was a big factor in my decision.
Q: How did you become the honorary consul to India?
A: My first trip to India was in 1987 when I was working in the Reagan administration and I was sponsored to go on a fact-finding political trip to learn more about India and its political parties. I had been to many other countries, but sometimes in life a certain passion or flame is ignited. I developed strong relationships with the embassy of India while I was working in Washington, D.C. Then when I moved to Atlanta in 1993 to practice law after working for the Bush administration, I maintained those ties.
Q: What were the more interesting aspects of working for Presidents Reagan and Bush?
A: Managing a global enforcement group of special agents [at the U.S. Department of Commerce] was a challenge but a great experience. Being part of the global group responsible for monitoring export controls and assisting in developing global policy on export controls was the highlight of my Commerce days.
Q: Which president did you like better?
A: I'm not going to go down that path. I thought both presidents did a wonderful job in their roles.
Q: Out of all of your roles, what has been the most interesting job?
A: I guess one of my most fun jobs was working in real-estate development during college. I was doing everything from giving horseback tours through the mountains to entertaining prospective buyers.
Q: You seem to have had a knack for business throughout your life. Besides law and politics, what other ventures have you been involved with?
A: When I first graduated from law school, two law school friends and I opened a restaurant in Johnson City, Tenn., called the Original Cheers Fun Eatery. It was a sit-down style restaurant that became very successful quickly in the tri-cities regions of East Tennessee. I was also involved in organizing a Washington, D.C., barbecue restaurant called Red Hot & Blue.
Q: Have these two experiences helped you in your current position?
A: Not really. This is the first time in my career I have been dedicated full-time to a restaurant enterprise.
Q: What are the major legal issues you confront as Church's GC?
A: One of our most valuable assets is our intellectual property and so the maintenance of that worldwide is a very important aspect of what we do here.
Q: How does the avian flu pandemic affect your role?
A: We would not be serving our franchisees or our company-owned stores if we did not develop strategies to address the circumstances that may create concern among consumers about the avian flu. We do like to point out though that you cannot pick it up from a cooked chicken. It's only from live poultry.
Q: What is the most challenging part of your job?
A: One experience that is somewhat new is monitoring litigation. In private practice I was a commercial lawyer and was not that engaged on litigation matters. Because we have almost 1,600 locations around the world, we do have to deal with lawsuits on a regular basis. So monitoring that internally as well as working with outside counsel to ensure we reach the right resolutions on those issues is a challenge.
Q: Are you going to miss law firm life?A: There are certain wonderful qualities of being a partner in a law firm. But I have always thought of myself as a general counsel even more so than as a partner in a law firm as far as my ultimate career objective. So I have reached that career objective.