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Rick Roda, L’01

Rick RodaGraduation Year: 2001

From Duquesne Lawyer
Fall/Winter 2015

In 2015, the ninth year of the Ethisphere Institute’s annual list of the World’s Most Ethical Companies, 132 honorees representing 21 countries, five continents and over 50 industries were named. Among those on the list is MSA Safety Incorporated (NYSE: MSA), a global company based in Pittsburgh. A key figure in that organization is in-house counsel Rick Roda, L’01, whose full title is Associate General Counsel, Assistant Secretary and Chief Compliance Officer. Although he would resist such an accolade, Roda played a leading role in his company’s making the Ethisphere Institute’s prestigious list.  “Being recognized as a 2015 World's Most Ethical Company is a great honor for the company, and more importantly, for the 4,500-plus MSA associates across the world who personify integrity in their work each day. It’s nice to be recognized,” Roda affirms. “But we are not driven by the award. We have the same goals and expectations as always.”

Dedicated to defining and advancing the standards of ethical business practices as demonstrated by corporate character, marketplace trust and business success, Ethisphere Magazine first entered circulation in November 2006. The following May, the first edition of the World’s Most Ethical Companies (WME) list was published. The standards used in the process for determining the WME list are designed to be an objective measurement of business protocol and stakeholder interaction. For the experts involved in the vetting process, integrity and transparency are the bottom line.

The WME assessment is based on the Ethisphere Institute's Ethics Quotient, which is a thoroughly researched framework for providing a means for objectively assessing an organization's performance. The scores are generated in five key categories of core competencies: ethics and compliance program; corporate citizenship and responsibility; culture of ethics; governance and leadership; innovation and reputation. The WME designation recognizes companies that consistently put these ideals into action while exceeding legal compliance minimums and introducing best practices along the way. These are the the companies who use ethical leadership as a profit driver, and these are the companies that successfully demonstrate the essence of Ethisphere’s credo, “Good. Smart. Business. Profit.”

Not surprisingly, the criteria for the WME list matches up closely with the content of the MSA Global Code of Business Conduct, the company’s foundational policy governing its core value of integrity. The unifying bond for the WME list and the MSA code can be narrowed down to one primary focus: integrity, which is the company’s longstanding foundational value. In the words of MSA Chairman, President and CEO William M. Lambert, “We run our business first and foremost with a clear understanding of integrity — doing what is right. It is critical to our relationships with our end-user customers, our business partners, our communities, our shareholders and each other that we act with nothing less than full integrity.”

“The award signifies what we already know about ourselves,” Roda says. “We deal with lifesaving equipment, and consequently, our key stakeholders place a great deal of trust in us. Our customers have to trust the company’s product will work as intended. Our shareholders place a great deal of trust in us when investing in MSA. And our over 4,500-plus associates trust that the company will conduct its affairs in an honorable and ethical manner. Integrity is the foundation upon which that trust — and our reputation — are built.” After a slight pause for pondering, he adds, “We have been at it for 100 years, and that trust has not been earned easily. In fact, we are still building it everyday.”

MSA, the worldwide leader in worker protection and safety product innovation, was born in the wake of a horrific explosion that occurred at the Jed Mine in West Virginia on the morning of March 26, 1912. More than 80 miners were killed in the ghastly accident. The tragedy had a profound impact on mine engineer John T. Ryan Sr., who subsequently vowed, “If I could spend my life doing what I can to lessen the likelihood of the occurrence of such terrible disasters, I shall feel in the end that my life had been well spent.”

Ryan and colleague George H. Deike joined forces to initiate Ryan’s vision for a new company dedicated to safety. With dependable, safe mining equipment as their starting point, they enlisted the help of master inventor and American icon Thomas Edison. The collaboration resulted in the electric cap lamp, an invention that reduced mine explosions by an extraordinary 75 percent over the next 25 years. Edison would later proclaim this invention as one that did the most for humanity.

Since that noble beginning, MSA has introduced an array of safety products. Today, the company’s core products include self-contained breathing apparatus, fixed gas and flame detection systems, portable gas detection instruments, industrial head protection, fire and rescue helmets, and fall protection devices. They products serve a broad range of markets, including oil, gas and petrochemical industry, the fire service, the construction industry, mining and the military. In keeping with the vision of founders Ryan and Deike, the company’s stated mission “to see to it that men and women may work in safety and that they, their families and their communities may live in health throughout the world.”

Roda started with MSA in 1995 as a customer service specialist. His income from that position enabled him to pursue his degree from the Law School as a student in the Evening Program. “Being married and working full time, the night school option at Duquesne was vital,” he remembers. “My professional and family responsibilities meant that my extracurricular law school activities were somewhat limited, but it was a tradeoff I was willing to accept to earn my degree.”  A strong work ethic, clear priorities, and support from family and coworkers were mandatory. His schedule was tight and inflexible; there simply was no wiggle room. “Naturally, I am a strong advocate for the Evening Program, which provides full-time professionals the opportunity to better themselves without sacrificing existing professional responsibilities. Students who finish that program must be absolutely committed to their pursuit of a degree, and my experience shows that employers recognize the unique value of that education.”

He completed his J.D. in 2001. “I was looking at an in-house counsel or corporate law position, but looking back, I was probably a bit naïve given the job market at the time. After I graduated, Doug McClain, who is currently general counsel for MSA, offered me a full-time position.” Roda knew and understood the company, and clearly the company considered him a solid investment. While he sometimes wonders if he missed out on the rigorous law firm training ground, he looks bag with few regrets—it was a good fit.

“My mentor early on was Doug, who was the strongest professional influence in my career,” Roda remembers. “He helped me understand quickly than an in-house counsel for a company like MSA may not litigate cases or become a subject matter expert, but instead must be adaptable problem solvers who wear many hats and can make an ongoing day-to-day impact on a variety of company affairs. Most importantly, he helped me understand the value of relationships and of being part of a team.”

In his present in-house counsel position—associate general counsel, assistant secretary and chief compliance officer—Roda does indeed wear a number of hats. Among other duties, he oversees the company’s commercial legal activities, such as mergers and acquisitions, and other strategic transactions. He also manages the day-to-day corporate governance function for the company at the direction of the General Counsel, and supports compliance with Securities and Exchange Commission rules and stock exchange listing requirements. And he oversees global ethics and legal compliance for the company and its affiliates, which are scattered in 40-plus countries with associates speaking more than 15 languages. As he says, “Adaptability and relying on a strong legal team are keys to success as in-house counsel. Our General Counsel has put together a great team of legal professionals, and I am glad just to be part of that team.”

With 20 years at MSA under his belt, Roda is an experienced veteran who strives to attain the ideals of the company he represents. For Roda, “honesty, trust, professionalism and the highest levels of ethical behavior” are not ethereal concepts; they are part of the foundation he acquired during his years in the Evening Program at the Duquesne School of Law. With his commitment to integrity, he is a natural representative for MSA Safety Incorporated—a 2015 World’s Most Ethical Company.