SanDisk has found a new leader for its legal department in Eric Whitaker, the former general counsel of Tesla Motors.
Whitaker started work Monday at the flash memory manufacturer. As senior vice president and chief legal officer, he is responsible for leading the legal team and overseeing the licensing department. Whitaker, who stepped down from his post at the electric carmaker in November, said he was drawn to SanDisk by its IP portfolio and the opportunities he sees in the flash memory space.
“That’s the fun part — it’s a Fortune 500 company with the potential for a lot of growth ahead,” he said. “If you look at the potential applications for flash memory, we’re just at the beginning.”
Whitaker is best known for his work at Tesla, but he is no stranger to the world of flash memory. Kenton King, partner in charge of the Palo Alto office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, met Whitaker in 2006 when he was advising Micron Technology in its acquisition of Lexar Media. Whitaker was the target company’s general counsel.
“I was very impressed with how Eric handled his side of the table. He is a very good catch for SanDisk,” said King, whose firm has represented SanDisk for about five years.
The slot leading SanDisk’s legal department opened up when then-general counsel James Brelsford announced his decision to return to the law firm fold in October. He joined Skadden as of counsel in November after being recruited by King.
Whitaker said he was approached by SanDisk shortly after he gave notice to Tesla and was hired in mid-December. Whitaker has leapt from a legal department of 10 at Tesla to one of about 50 at SanDisk.
“Jim Brelsford has put together a great team here,” Whitaker said. “I think that I bring a scrappier and more entrepreneurial approach.”
Whitaker expects the company’s licensing needs as well as potential litigation and acquisitions to keep him busy. He said he wants to bring more work in-house, and new hires may be necessary. But he is most eager to weigh in as the nearly 25-year-old company looks to the future.
“The memory industry is transforming quickly right now,” Whitaker said. “We’re figuring out how to position ourselves for the next decade. Legal is going to have to be an important part of that.”