How Arthur Bensler Climbed the Corporate Ladder

Teekay’s executive VP and general counsel shares how he moved his way up

Since its founding in 1973, Vancouver-based Teekay Corporation has developed from a regional shipping company into one of the world’s largest marine energy production, transportation, and storage companies. As one of its 10 managing executives, executive VP and general counsel Arthur Bensler prides himself on motivating a 29-person team to proactively meet the business’s complex legal, tax, and insurance needs, from deal structuring to supporting the boards of the four entities publicly listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Preparation and trust, he says, are two of the keys to his past and present success.
Since its founding in 1973, Vancouver-based Teekay Corporation has developed from a regional shipping company into one of the world’s largest marine energy production, transportation, and storage companies. As one of its 10 managing executives, executive VP and general counsel Arthur Bensler prides himself on motivating a 29-person team to proactively meet the business’s complex legal, tax, and insurance needs, from deal structuring to supporting the boards of the four entities publicly listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Preparation and trust, he says, are two of the keys to his past and present success.

1. Decide what you want to do

At the University of British Columbia, Arthur Bensler originally planned to be a mechanical engineer, but he found his English literature courses much more interesting, so he switched majors after three years. Then, even though he had never considered a career in law, he took the LSAT. “I was casting about, thinking what I might do, and realized I enjoyed analytical thinking, debating, and writing, and I knew I enjoyed working with people, and all of those things applied to the practice of law,” says Bensler. “In law school, I participated in competitive mooting, in which you’re given a fact pattern, then develop a case and argue it in front of a panel of judges, and I found that so fascinating that I decided to become a litigator.”

2. Prepare

After attending law school at the University of British Columbia, Bensler accepted a one-year clerkship at the Supreme Court of British Columbia, where all the major cases come in. “I’d gained analytical skills and the ability to think on my feet, but I wanted a better understanding of the court system,” says Bensler, who was assigned to Chief Justice Alan McEachern, one of the best-known judges in Canada. “It gave me great insight into what judges look for and how they go about deciding cases, which was essential. Good preparation is fundamental to legal success; you can’t just go in and wing it, because law is all about solving problems.”

3. Get experience

In 1987, when his yearlong clerkship was finished, Bensler began working at a large litigation firm in Vancouver, Russell & DuMoulin (now called Fasken Martineau). At the time, it was a leading litigation firm in Canada, and Bensler made partner in 1993, a role he stayed in for five years, before he moved to Teekay Corporation in 1998. “By that time, I understood the law well,” he says, “but I thought it would be more fun to get involved in the legal process from the very start, where you can add value by guiding and structuring a transaction from the start.”

4. Don’t be afraid to change

In addition to changing his university major from the sciences, Bensler later changed his legal focus from litigation to commercial law before leaving Russell & Dumoulin. “After doing litigation for a few years, I realized my personality was better suited to the business side than the litigation side of law,” he says. “In litigation, you’re pulling parties in opposite directions, because there’s either a winner or a loser. I was more interested in finding good solutions for both parties, which often happens on the business side, where both parties work hard to find a win-win solution.”

5. Negotiate for what you want

When interviewing for a position as Teekay’s general counsel, Bensler quickly realized he was overqualified for the job as posted. “There was a new CEO who wanted to grow the company, and he was told he’d need a general counsel to do so, but he had no idea what that counsel would do,” recalls Bensler. “As a result, when he advertised for the position, he painted it as a much more junior position than I thought was required to properly do the job. Instead of declining the opportunity, I proposed joining the company at a lower level and lower salary. Then, if I was adding value at a higher level, they’d elevate the job.” As it turns out, Teekay’s CEO did think Bensler was adding value, and he was promoted quickly: to vice president in 2002, corporate secretary in 2003, senior vice president in 2004, and executive vice president in 2006.

6. Be trustworthy

Being general counsel is much broader than advising on legal issues: you’re taking your experience in law and using that to give good advice,” says Bensler. “As a result, you have to have credibility.” Sometimes that means not being afraid to challenge the status quo. “I tell the people on my team not to be afraid if there’s friction, because that’s what law creates when it regulates business,” Bensler says. “You’re in the role of a gatekeeper, and you have to be unafraid to challenge anyone, anywhere within the organization, because you’re guiding the organization’s integrity and ensuring that things are done in a way that’s sustainable in the long term. But that’s how you add value.”