Chief Counsel of Antitrust Law and Global Competition at Tyson Foods, Inc., Eli Glasser, sat down with Ben Nagin, co-head of the antitrust litigation group, to talk about his journey in antitrust and litigation, the biggest lessons and challenges he’s faced, and his advice for junior lawyers looking to work in-house and in antitrust.
As Chief Counsel of Antitrust Law and Global Competition at Tyson Foods, what falls under your umbrella?
First and foremost, I run point on all competition-related matters — whether litigations or investigations — with support from our commercial litigation team. In addition, I oversee other regulatory inquiries related to pricing, which could originate from various federal and state agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general. The other side is compliance. On that front, I develop training programs and have produced different materials tailored to the audience, such as HR, sales, or live production. And I also routinely handle day-to-day antitrust questions from team members.
When did you start to focus primarily on antitrust and competition matters?
I joined Tyson in 2018 as chief counsel of commercial litigation. When I joined Tyson, there were already antitrust class actions pending in the poultry space and new cases in our other protein segments have been filed since then. In addition, in 2019, the Department of Justice put out guidance detailing the factors it would use to evaluate the effectiveness of corporate antitrust compliance programs. Considering these developments, we decided to devote a lawyer to antitrust issues, and I was asked whether I wanted to remain in my role with the Commercial Litigation team, or whether I wanted to specialize in antitrust. I’m very pleased that I chose the antitrust path.
Once I got into the role, the first step was to revise our global antitrust policy. I worked with several members of the Law and Compliance departments to provide more detailed guidance and to also use more plain language in the policy. Next, I developed training materials for different roles and responsibilities and conducted many training sessions, both in person and over Zoom. Throughout these training sessions, I encouraged team members to raise questions with the Law department and talk through any complicated issues. From my perspective, the more questions and interaction I have with team members on these issues, the better. Today, I have three direct reports and they are focused on working closely with the business on issues related to compliance, and the Packers & Stockyards Act. We also analyze proposed rules and regulations and get the business up to speed on what to expect and what we see coming around the corner.
You worked in private practice, and now in-house. I’m curious about the different mindsets you have in each workplace.
I joke that the major change is going from working in Word documents and producing briefs and memos, to working in PowerPoint and producing presentations and guidance materials. To make effective presentations, you’ve got to capture the audience’s attention by making it visually appealing and finding creative ways to ensure that these complicated antitrust concepts stick in peoples’ minds. One of the metrics that I rely on to figure out how our program is working is how much outreach I’m getting from the business. A phrase that I’ve come to say at my trainings is, “The only stupid question is one that was never asked.” Each question, even if it’s straightforward, can lead to a broader conversation and give the team members insights on how to handle situations that might not fit neatly into the examples used during the training sessions.
What have been some of the biggest challenges or opportunities you’ve found in your role at Tyson Foods?
It’s nonstop action. Some of the more interesting opportunities in my role include helping prepare the president of our Fresh Meats division to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and our CEO to go before the House Agricultural Committee. The prices of beef and cattle have attracted a lot of attention in recent years due to the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Cattle can take several years before they are ready to be harvested, which then means it’s very hard to alter the amount of supply when you get these shocks to the system. In addition, the pandemic hit when we were near the peak of the cattle cycle and so there was an ample supply of cattle. But due to plant shutdowns, record levels of absenteeism, and other disruptions caused by COVID-19, we couldn’t process all the cattle that were ready to be harvested, which sent cattle prices lower. At the same time, there was less processed beef on the market, and so those prices increased. Although the prices of cattle and beef were both driven by supply and demand, there was a lot of scrutiny by politicians and ranchers, since these prices were moving in opposite directions as a result of the massive disruptions throughout the supply chain. We also responded to an FTC investigation into supply chain issues and fielded written questions from Congress on meat prices.
Thinking back at your time at Sidley, do you have an enduring memory or experience that you carry with you and informs your professional life now?
I worked with Isaac Greaney on a Bombardier Capital securities litigation before Judge Shira Scheindlin. I remember working closely with our experts and going around and around with Isaac on class certification issues. We were confident that the market for mortgage-backed securities was not efficient, as people were buying the securities at different prices at or around the same time and the pricing for these securities was opaque. We knew it was a steep challenge, but we persuaded Judge Scheindlin to deny class certification, which was ultimately affirmed by the Second Circuit. We settled shortly afterwards for far less than what plaintiffs were originally seeking. It was a huge win. I wrote the first draft of that brief, and I remember learning a lot about writing from Isaac, Patrick McGuirk, Bob Pietrzak, and other great Sidley lawyers who taught me lessons I’m still using to this day.
What’s a great weekend look like for you?
These days, it is getting out hiking. I moved from two blocks from the beach to the middle of Arkansas and had no clue what to expect — but it is gorgeous out here. There are creeks and great hiking trails within minutes of our doorstep. I try to get out with the dogs early, go on a hike, then come back to town to visit the farmers market. It is much different than the beach, but the people in Arkansas are very friendly and welcoming, and my wife and I love it here.
What guidance would you give junior lawyers about how to be most helpful to clients, and what working in-house looks like?
The first thing that comes to mind is how great the world of antitrust is for young lawyers. It can lead you down so many different paths — you can be a litigator; you can be a transactional lawyer; you can work for the government; you can work in-house. Antitrust issues are relevant to compensation, mergers and acquisitions, litigation, and day-to-day business. It is also such a complex world that you’re going to keep learning every day. It is a lot to keep up with and I get to interact with our HR teams, our sales teams, our production teams, as well as senior leadership, and have the opportunity to see all aspects of our business. Dealing with all of the class actions, investigations, and Congressional inquiries has been quite a challenge, but it has been a fascinating experience, both personally and professionally, and I am so glad I made the decision to join Tyson.
Published October 2022
Read more articles in our Alumni Profiles series and learn more about our Alumni Network by clicking here.