This may go without saying, but rock, sand and gravel are very heavy, and moving them is very expensive.
That means that the materials used in building roads and other big construction projects must come from relatively close to the places where they are being used. Having to transport materials even 100 miles can turn a contractor’s balance sheet from black to red.
This is how Chris Gaskill ’08 explains the nature of his business. He has learned these lessons over seven years at Summit Materials, where he is the executive vice president, chief legal officer and secretary. Summit, a huge publicly traded construction materials company with nearly $2.5 billion in annual revenue, does pretty much everything, from mining aggregate and producing asphalt to paving roads and pouring foundations. The company also makes cement and ready-mix concrete. Summit is headquartered in Denver but operates in 26 states and British Columbia.
The simple economics of the construction materials business force Summit to be a “hyperlocal business,” Gaskill said. He embraces that.
“Of necessity, we’re close to where the work is being done,” he explained. “We’re part of the communities in which we work, and we’re helping to build those communities.”
One of his goals is to help the company become more involved in the social, economic and philanthropic aspects of the communities where they do business.
“That’s something I’m particularly excited about,” Gaskill said. “It gives you a sense of purpose and makes you excited to come to work every day.”
Heading a team of four lawyers besides himself, Gaskill works closely with his board on compliance with the Securities and Exchange Commission’s regulations, and on issues related to corporate governance, mergers and acquisitions, executive compensation, commercial support, litigation and environmental compliance.
Since its founding in 2009, Summit has acquired dozens of smaller construction and raw materials companies throughout North America. Gaskill works hard to make his legal group more than the company’s “Department of No.” Outside counsel once described him, in an article for Modern Counsel magazine, as specializing in “hospitable takeovers,” as he works to smooth the rough edges of the negotiations involved with the mergers and acquisitions that have driven Summit’s growth.
Over the past few years, COVID-19 has played havoc with the supply chain, forcing Summit to plan much further ahead to make sure that it can purchase needed machinery and keep it in repair. It has also contributed to a labor shortage, which has raised costs. On the other hand, Gaskill believes the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which Congress passed last year, will help in many ways.
“We’re very pleased that Congress took the action that has been needed for a long time to upgrade our infrastructure around the country,” he said. “It will be beneficial to us as a company and the industry as a whole, but also [to] the communities that will benefit from better roads and safer bridges.”
A native of Cleveland, Gaskill went to Bowdoin College and spent his college summers interning in Washington, D.C., for the late Ohio Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones. Watching up close how laws get made convinced him to apply to law school, but Gaskill had other mentors closer to home. His mother, Kathleen Burke, was a commercial litigator at Jones Day and director of the Ohio Lottery Commission. (She later served as a U.S. magistrate judge from 2011-2021.)
<p>When he got to UVA, Gaskill said, “The place felt like home already.” He credits a securities law class with former Dean Paul Mahoney for inspiring him to work for public companies. After three years as an associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, where he worked in their public company advisory practice, Gaskill decided to go in-house. He joined Cardinal Health in Columbus, Ohio, in 2011 and three years later moved to Englewood, Colorado, to become counsel and assistant secretary for Western Union. Gaskill joined Summit as deputy general counsel in August 2015 and assumed his current job in March 2021.</p>
<p>In addition to making Summit a more engaged local partner, Gaskill said that he wants to help them become more sustainable, as well.</p>
<p>“We are committed to being the most socially responsible construction materials company,” he insisted. “That means being cognizant of our effect on the environment, as well as being very purposeful about our position in the communities in which we operate.”</p>