Cleveland-Marshall College of Law student Benjamin Ballard has known for a long time that he wants to work in the automotive industry. While law school is not a traditional career track for entering this field, Ballard has forged a unique path that has him well-positioned to attain his goal.
Ballard, a California native, has always been an automobile enthusiast and recalls growing up with a 1936 Chevy sitting in the family garage. As a teenager he rode dirt bikes and after high school he purchased a 1991 Ford Mustang, the car he still considers his “baby.” Ballard eventually got into off-road racing and became a pit crew member with the White Lightning Racing team of the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series. With White Lightning, he got experience in the marketing and public relations side of the business as well, but found that the grind and travel of racing life to be too much.
“The racing team lifestyle didn’t satisfy me but I still have a passion for it,” said Ballard. “I was pretty good at school so I decided to still pursue automotive but from the opposite side of the spectrum.”
Ballard’s prior career is not typical of a law student and his law school search did not fit the traditional mold either. Residing in California after graduating from the University of Redlands, he was looking for a law school that offered a J.D./M.B.A program at a reasonable price in a location with an affordable cost of living and proximity to automotive companies. That confluence of factors drew Ballard across the country to C|M|LAW.
As he had as an undergraduate, Ballard tailored his education at Cleveland-Marshall to suit an automotive career path. At Redlands, he worked on projects pertaining to the international business of BMW and alternative fuels. At C|M|LAW, Ballard wrote a paper on the General Motors ignition switch as an associate and then Editor-in-Chief with the Global Business Law Review.
As part of his research for the paper, Ballard corresponded with Kevin McDonald, General Counsel & Chief Compliance Officer of VW Credit and author of numerous law review articles on automotive regulations and the book Shifting Out of Park: Moving Auto Safety from Recalls to Reason on the automobile recall process. His networking led to an invitation for Ballard to visit the company in-person and eventually an offer to be the company’s Legal Compliance and Regulatory Intern in the summer of 2016, a position created with Ballard in mind.
“(McDonald) knew that I knew what I was talking about because I had been researching it for law review and could talk about the industry in depth,” said Ballard.
During internship at VW Credit, a captive finance company and subsidiary of Volkswagen, Ballard faced a steep curve in learning the ins and outs of the business. He participated in meetings with the company’s executives and outside counsel and aimed to impress by being the first one into the office each morning.
“The first half of summer, I was having discussions with my boss on where to look and who to talk to for future opportunities in the industry,” said Ballard. “Then those conversations shifted to how we could get me to work at Volkswagen after graduation.”
VW Credit was impressed with the Cleveland-Marshall student to the point where they are in the process of creating a post-graduate position in the legal department, and after his experience this summer, Ballard, who has co-written an article with McDonald to be published in the Fall volume of the ABA’s Business Lawyer, knows he has found his calling.
“I enjoyed my time at VW so much that it really reaffirmed this is what I want to do and this is where I belong.”