POET Senior Vice President and General Counsel David Bearden brings the same passion and purpose to revolutionizing the biofuels industry as he did to serving his country.
After working in senior positions in President George W. Bush’s administration for seven years, David Bearden wanted to hold tight to the strong sense of mission he derived from public service and take it with him when he left Washington, D.C.
Sacrificing his ideals was not an option. His next career needed to matter.
So as the president’s term wound down, Bearden — who was then the Principal Deputy General Counsel of the Navy, the second ranking legal officer of the Department of the Navy — did some soul searching. Bearden wanted to find a job where he could go to work every day with the same passion he took to the Pentagon, where “serving those who serve” was a constant source of honor and inspiration.
Enter POET. “During my first phone conversation with [POET CEO] Jeff Broin, I explained that it was important to me to find something big and meaningful to do,” Bearden says. “Jeff’s reaction was, ‘we’d like to change the world.’ I thought, ‘well, that’s certainly big!’”
It didn’t take long after he was hired in January 2008, for Bearden to realize that POET’s CEO wasn’t exaggerating about the company’s goals and the ethanol industry’s potential.
“What I love most about my job is its purpose,” Bearden says. “It’s wonderful being able to go to work each day knowing I’m working on something that will have a meaningful impact on our country, whether it’s protecting the environment or reducing our nation’s dependence on foreign oil.”
Bearden’s dedication and passion have been instrumental in “taking the POET legal team to a new level,” says CEO Broin, noting that Bearden is on the forefront of several company and industry initiatives that will have large-scale, long-lasting impacts.
A prime example is Bearden’s leadership in a lawsuit against the California Air Resources Board (CARB) on behalf of POET and the Growth Energy trade association. “David is taking us down the right path with this landmark lawsuit, which could create massive changes in the way energy is produced and agricultural production operates in the U.S.,” Broin says. “He’s helping us lead the revolution,”
Bearden’s friends and colleagues say he is known for giving his full effort to whatever task is at hand, no matter how intimidating.
“He’s phenomenally responsible, phenomenally disciplined, and phenomenally respectful of the mission of whatever organization he’s a part of,” says Mike Meece, Chief of Staff in the Dallas office of former President George W. Bush and a longtime friend and colleague of Bearden. “He’s always prepared, and comes to work ready to go full speed, all day, every day.”
Meece and Bearden met when they were both law students at the University of Texas (UT) and teammates on a flag football team that dominated the university’s intramural league. (While an undergrad at UT, Bearden had been a three-year letterman for the Texas Longhorns.) The classmates reconnected several years later as colleagues at the Department of Commerce (Bearden’s first stop in D.C.) and members of the same Bible study group.
Meece predicts that Bearden’s time at the Department of Commerce and then at the Department of Defense will serve him well at POET. “David got a lot of great experience in the public sector managing people and personalities, putting teams together, and motivating talent. And obviously his public policy experience is going to be valuable in a heavily regulated industry like the one he’s chosen.”
While Bearden took a winding path to POET, every step of his journey served a purpose. After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in economics and then from UT’s law school, Bearden accepted a job as a corporate lawyer for a national firm in Houston.
About four years later, Bearden left the big law firm and spent a “very gratifying” year working for his father’s underground utilities construction business.
During that year, Bearden says he “began to feel a strong call toward some type of public service.” That calling led to a position in the Bush administration. By early 2001, Bearden and his wife had moved to D.C., where Bearden took a non-legal position within the Department of Commerce. Bearden was the first person hired by then-Assistant Secretary of Commerce David Sampson.
According to Sampson, “David proved to be the best personnel decision that I’ve ever made, and he was absolutely pivotal in everything we were able to accomplish at Commerce over the next seven years.”
Sampson, who is now president and CEO of Des Plaines, Ill. — based Property Casualty Insurers Association of America adds, “David’s unwavering integrity inspired everyone who worked with him or for him.”
Four years later, at the beginning of President Bush’s second term, Bearden was recruited to serve in a different role — Deputy General Counsel — at the Department of Commerce. John Sullivan, who was then General Counsel for the agency and is currently a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in D.C., was the person who pulled Bearden back into an attorney’s role.
“David has terrific management and organizational skills,” Sullivan says. “And he deals with problem situations in a discreet, unflappable way. Lawyers always get brought in when something bad happens, and everyone knew David could be trusted to handle the situations with judgment and common sense, to keep a level head, and to sort fact from fiction,” Sullivan says.
Bearden’s final stop in Washington, D.C. was at the Department of Defense, where he worked as Principal Deputy General Counsel of the Navy.
According to Bearden, providing legal advice to senior officials and coordinating the Navy’s legislative initiatives were energizing and rewarding tasks. “To work where the people who put on uniforms to serve our country work was a great honor. It was the culmination of a dream, rolling back to earlier when I had first felt called to public service.”
Moving to POET a few years later, in the waning days of the Bush administration, was the continuation of that dream for Bearden. It has been easy for him to connect his career in public service with his career in the ethanol industry, and he’s just as passionate and purposeful now as he’s ever been about making the world a better place.
“Ethanol is a product that is available right now that has a very real potential of helping us reduce our dependence on foreign oil while being environmentally friendly,” Bearden says. “When I departed the Commerce Department in 2006, my colleagues were still dealing with the consequences of the Exxon Valdez. You just don’t have those types of issues with ethanol.”
Bearden saw the ethanol industry as an opportunity to contribute to his country on many fronts. Working in the Pentagon with military leaders made him all too familiar with the tragic loss of lives in the Middle East, he says, as well as the vast quantities of money expended there.
“I would like my three kids to live in a world where they’re not worried about terrorism, and oil from the Middle East is irrelevant. And I believe we can accomplish this.”