By: Mark Curriden
Summit Financial CEO and Chairman Dale Young grew tired of soaring legal expenses and “sacrificing profitability” as the highly regulated financial benefits services group expanded significantly in 2014.
Young made a decision: Hire a young entrepreneurial lawyer willing to work hard and be a critical component of the business. He chose Daniel Gerber, who was only a year out of law school.
The decision paid off.
“Daniel has built our legal and compliance departments from the ground up, was the key in the furtherance of our human resources department and has led us through several acquisitions that grew our organization exponentially,” Young said. “He built the foundation and internal processes for a direct-contracting, healthcare provider network that has given our benefits consulting business a competitive edge for sales and reduced healthcare expenses for our clients and their employees.
“Daniel’s execution makes visions become a reality,” he said.
The DFW Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel and The Texas Lawbook are pleased to announce that Gerber, who has been the general counsel of Summit Financial since 2016, is a finalist for the 2018 Outstanding Corporate Counsel’s General Counsel of the Year Award for a Small Legal Department.
Gerber was the only individual nominated in 2018 by both his CEO and chief financial officer.
“Daniel and I have worked closely together in countless projects and initiatives within the organization,” CFO Brian Wolf said. “He has displayed his unique abilities to maintain emotional prowess, good judgment and problem-solving skills in critical situations.
“Daniel is the conscience of Summit,” Wolf said. “Daniel has had a positive influence in every aspect of our organization.”
Wolf and other Summit executives say that it would not be an exaggeration to attribute a 20 percent increase in the company’s valuation to Gerber’s efforts.
Born in a small oil and gas community in the Panhandle of Oklahoma, Gerber worked as a teenager delivering truck and oil rig parts to workers.
“I realized then that these people drink too much coffee and I needed to do something more with my life,” he says.
He went to Southern Oklahoma State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
“There’s not much you can do job-wise with a psychology degree, especially when you graduate in 2009 when the economy wasn’t so good,” he says. “I had a girlfriend at the time who said she was going to law school. So, I decided to go, too. Besides, my friends all said that I would make a good lawyer, even though I had no idea what that meant.”
FYI, the old girlfriend decided against going to law school. Gerber went anyway and says it was one of the best decisions of his life.
Gerber graduated from Oklahoma City University School of Law in 2013. A third year class called “Contract Drafting” was his favorite course.
“Daniel was an enthusiastic and serious student with a unique set of soft skills – particularly strong self-awareness, equanimity and high emotion intelligence – that I suspected would serve him well once he entered practice,” said Dallas attorney Brendan Maher, who taught evidence at Oklahoma City University. “It is no surprise to me how quickly he has become successful.”
After practicing less than a year in Oklahoma City at a small firm that handled small business matters and family law disputes, Gerber was offered the corporate counsel position by Summit.
“I love this job,” he says. “I’ve been thrown into situations and just had to figure it out. It’s half legal and half business.”
Two years ago, a friend recommended that he join the DFW Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. The all in-house organization allowed him to network, meet others facing similar issues to his and attend CLE programs that specifically target his needs.
“ACC has been a God-send for me,” he says.
In 2018, Gerber was tasked to build the company’s human resources department.
“I reviewed about 150 resumes and this one jumped out at me because the woman said she played third base in high school softball,” he says. “Playing third base means you are fearless. She has been amazing in the job.”
Talley Parker, a principal at Jackson Lewis, said Gerber clearly “provides tremendous value” to Summit by guiding stakeholders on key business and legal initiatives.
“As a legal department of one, he is required to be a jack of all trades,” Parker says. “He jumps from one subject matter to another throughout his day and is regularly called on by his company’s leadership to provide feedback on the direction of the business and is asked to provide advice and counsel on numerous legal issues.
“He also is responsible for managing his company’s litigation, for reviewing and drafting key company agreements, and for staying on top of employment issues that affect multi-state employers like his company,” he says.
During his four years at Summit, Gerber has handled five M&A deals, including the sale of its California-based third party pension administrator in November. He’s drafted hundreds of contracts and agreements. He’s been instrumental in updating the business’s privacy guidelines and procedures. And he has helped the company avoid potentially costly litigation.
Last year, one of Summit’s affiliated companies received a demand letter that could have resulted in significant litigation.
“I decided to communicate directly with the other side’s lawyers and we worked it out,” he says. “I basically over-communicated with them and their client was very pleased. I’m trying to resolve issues sooner and faster and more efficiently.”
But that doesn’t mean backing down.
Two large companies sent Summit cease-and-desist orders a couple years ago. Gerber responded immediately with clear and strong arguments rejecting their claims.
“We never heard back from them,” he says.
© 2019 The Texas Lawbook.