Joseph S. Folz is general counsel and corporate secretary of Porsche Cars North America, Porsche Cars Canada and Porsche Logistics Services. He is responsible for all legal matters arising in those businesses and for state, provincial and local government relations and public policy. He reports to the president and CEO of Porsche Cars North America and is a member of the company's executive committee.
A longtime Porsche owner and enthusiast, Folz joined the company in 2010 from the Automotive Practice Group of Chicago-based Barack Ferrazzano Kirschbaum & Nagelberg. Before that he served for 29 years with Volkswagen Group of America, including 16 years as its chief legal officer, retiring in 2008 as executive vice president, corporate relations, general counsel and secretary.
Folz earned a bachelor's degree in economics and business administration from Kalamazoo College and a law degree from the University of Michigan. He and his wife, Ellen, who taught elementary school in Michigan, have two children.
His hobbies are reading, movies, concerts and being tourists in Atlanta, his newly adopted hometown, especially trying great new restaurants every weekend. Folz said he intends to become more involved in the community but currently serves on the board of directors of the Airport Area Chamber of Commerce.
Daily Report: Tell us about your department and your role in it.
Joseph Folz: We have a tiny little team of three lawyers and four legal assistants here in Atlanta and two more lawyers in Chicago who are mainly responsible for our captive finance company. They'll be moving here later this year, in connection with our new headquarters project.
We all work on a little bit of everything, and we all work very independently. Everyone is very experienced and extremely well qualified for their jobs, so my daily supervision of anyone else's legal work is minimal.
I spend more time making sure we're all informed and coordinated and keeping the you-know-what from rolling downhill. I have found that the key is hiring smart people with great attitudes and then supporting them and staying out of their way.
DR: What befuddles, amazes or confuses your German counterparts about the American legal system?
JF: Our German colleagues have been known to exclaim, upon learning some point of American law that differs from what they are used to, "That cannot POSSIBLY be the law!" To the Germans, our huge damage awards, the number of lawyers looking for business (in fact, just the number of lawyers), the contingency fee system, and the almost endless possibility for appeals all are completely insane.
But, the good news is that our German legal colleagues, believing our system is crazy, know that they do not directly want to become involved in it. So, they trust us to handle things here and really don't look over our shoulders.
Our German counterparts expect us to know our stuff, tell them the truth and warn them as early as possible of anything bad. They trust us to do our jobs. Earning the trust of a German person is difficult, but it is very worthwhile because, once they trust you, they trust you forever. You never want to betray that.
DR: How will product liability cases be affected if cars will be required to install an event data recorder, which is similar to the black box in airplanes?
JF: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed mandating "black boxes" technically, "Event Data Recorders" or "EDRs" starting with the 2015 model year, and the industry generally supports this. Some cars already have them, though ours do not. From a product defense standpoint, we actually expect the EDR to help us. It will make accident reconstruction an even more exact science than it already is.
The reality today is that cars almost everybody's cars, not just ours have become truly excellent, including their crashworthiness. Safety engineering and manufacturing precision are astoundingly good. A new car is the most technologically advanced machine most of us ever will operate. And it is just amazing that, for all its complexity, we just get in every morning, start it up, tune the stereo, adjust the climate and take off.
It is exceedingly rare today for any crash to be caused by a design or manufacturing defect in the car. Motor vehicle deaths and injuries, when the occupants are properly restrained, along with automobile product liability claims, have dramatically declined.