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Stuart Lapp talks law, business and barbecue

December 21, 2018

Stuart Lapp’s business card shows that he’s a partner at the Stibbs & Co. law firm in Spring. But there’s more to Lapp than his day job—he’s also the 2018-19 board chairman on The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce.

He has a history here in The Woodlands, too. When his father was tabbed to help George Mitchell develop The Woodlands, Lapp of course came with him. While Lapp had the opportunity to see the community developed from the ground up, he’s called the area home ever since.

Lapp sat down with The Villager to chat about his work and business in The Woodlands. And that’s not all: he even shared thoughts about his hobby for certain smoked meats.

QUESTION: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

LAPP: I was born in Chicago, but only lived there for six weeks. We moved to Michigan for about two years, and then to Colorado which is where I grew up until I was in junior high school. We moved to upstate New York for a couple years, and then in 1973 we moved to Texas. We came to Texas because my father came here to work for George Mitchell to help build The Woodlands. I graduated from Spring High School, because there were no schools or houses in The Woodlands at that point in time. I consider myself to be a Texan — I’ve been here for most of my life. I’ve raised my family here and have a career here, and have become part of the community here. I’m a lawyer, a partner in the law firm Stibbs & Co., we’re a business firm in North Houston. I have spent 30-some years practicing law in the Houston marketplace.

QUESTION: How did you know you wanted to be a lawyer?

LAPP: Because I didn’t want to be a doctor. I don’t mean it that flippantly, but I knew I wanted to do something to help people. My father’s a minister, and I decided I didn’t want to be a minister. I didn’t want to be a doctor because I didn’t like blood and gore. I remember consciously making that decision when I was in fourth grade in the emergency room getting stitches. Law was something that I was attracted to, both because it’s an opportunity to help people and make a difference. There’s right and wrong, and the law helps us define what’s right and what’s wrong.

QUESTION: Has it been a fulfilling career for you so far?

LAPP: It has been very fulfilling. I’ve done a variety of things in the practice. I’ve had the opportunity to work at a medium-size law firm to start my career, I’ve had my own firm, I worked in-house as general counsel for a multimillion-dollar company, and now I have the opportunity to work at this firm and make a difference in the community and mentor young lawyers who will also grow into the community to make a difference.

QUESTION: You mentioned that your father and George Mitchell had a work relationship. What was it like for you, as a younger gentleman, to see The Woodlands develop and be involved in that?

LAPP: George Mitchell was a tremendous visionary in a lot of ways. It was interesting to come here, and for my dad to come to The Woodlands on the ground floor. We came out here and there were no roads, offices or houses. I got to see it start from the very beginning. I watched the first (Municipal Utility District) townhomes go in in Settlers Corner. I worked in the woods saving trees. The day I turned 16, I went to Conroe and got my driver’s license and the next day I reported to work in The Woodlands. I got to run boat concession at the wharf, they rented paddleboats and canoes and sailboats on the weekends, and I worked there in high school.

It was so neat to be part of a new community, really like a small town. Everybody knew everybody, there wasn’t a grocery store and when one came, it was the center of the community. There was an energy around everything. It was exciting, it was new. Everyone complained that The Woodlands was too far away and nobody would move there, but the people who had a vision, and George Mitchell particularly had a vision that this is something that would be successful. And it has been, so far.

QUESTION: You were elected as the board chairman for The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce for the 2018-19 term. How did you get involved in The Woodlands business community?

LAPP: Initially I got involved through the company I worked for, as general counsel for Petroleum Wholesale. When they were relocating their offices, we got connected with the Economic Development Partnership, and they helped with a tax abatement to encourage the company to move. I served on the board of the EDP and was chairman of the board before I became chairman of the board of the Chamber of Commerce.

The business community in The Woodlands is unique in a couple of ways. There’s a major business concentration in The Woodlands, which is a suburban place. It’s not a major downtown metropolitan area. There are major employers here, and a wide variety. From health care, schools, oil and gas, technology, retail, you name it. It’s there. A lot of innovative companies are in The Woodlands.

When I was still on the board of the EDP, after I had cycled off as chairman, I was asked to consider serving on the board of the chamber. I agreed to do that. I was vice president for three years and was vice president for government affairs, which let me continue to be involved in the business relationships. The business community in The Woodlands, in my experience, is very generous with their time, with their talent, with their sponsoring local events, supporting charities, supporting community events, and supporting each other. That’s something the chamber really facilitates.

QUESTION: How do you see the business community changing and evolving over the next 10-15 years?

LAPP: I see the business community changing and evolving to get more engaged in the community, particularly in the direction of guiding the future of The Woodlands. One of the things that’s unique about The Woodlands is that it’s designed from the ground up. You can live in The Woodlands, your kids go to school in The Woodlands, you can work in The Woodlands, you can shop in The Woodlands, you can dine in The Woodlands, you can go to church in The Woodlands, you can go to the hospital in The Woodlands, you can get buried in The Woodlands. That was the vision George Mitchell had of creating a true hometown not in the core of a major metropolitan area, but as an alternative to suburban sprawl as people left cities.

With that in mind, because of the business community and its location and participation in The Woodlands, it has both an opportunity and an obligation to support the community and the future. The residents support the businesses, and the businesses support the residents. It’s a symbiotic relationship. I see the business communities having a real opportunity and taking that opportunity to help focus the future of our community.

QUESTION: Outside of business and work, tell us about some of your passions?

LAPP: I’m a barbecue nerd. My law partners would say it’s an obsession, not a passion. I like to cook it, eat it, promote it and celebrate it. Our firm has started and sponsors a barbecue festival in The Woodlands each year. The festival is designed to help raise money for pulmonary hypertension.

One of my law partners is Jack Stibbs. When his daughter, Emily, was five years old she was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, which is an incurable lung disease. When they asked the doctors what to do, they said she has about a three-year life expectancy, there aren’t any treatments and there’s not any research being done for pediatric patients. The good news of that story is that Emily exceeded the doctors’ expectations — in August this year she got married. What Jack and his wife did when they got the diagnosis is they said, “That’s not good enough for us, there’s gotta be something that can be done to help the Emily’s of the world.” They started doing things to raise money for research, education and medication.

One of the things that we’ve been involved with is The Woodlands CrawPHish festival. I joined the firm three and a half years ago, and crawfish are OK, but it ain’t barbecue. We didn’t start out to have a barbecue festival, but through my obsession with barbecue I’ve gotten to know different people in the community and the pitmasters…and we started The Woodlands BBQ festival, which we just had our third one in October. It’s been an opportunity for us to have another avenue to raise money for pulmonary hypertension, bring awareness to the disease, and me selfishly the opportunity to get to know the people who, across the board, are selfless and wonderful people. I could talk about barbecue all day long. It’s something that’s uniquely Texan.

QUESTION: What is your favorite barbecue place?

LAPP: I’m very fond of Corkscrew Barbecue, for a variety of reasons. The number one reason is that (the owners) are kindest, most caring and generous people you will ever meet in your life. Also, it’s close to my office. Their food is exceptionally good, and it’s consistent every time we go. I would say the same thing about others, but it’s hard for me during a work day to get in my truck and drive to Houston or Atascocita or Tomball. But, every single one of the barbecue joints that support our barbecue festival have been so generous and so giving and so kind and caring. They do this because they care, not because of any other reason. I have tried lots of barbecue in a lot of places, but I think there’s something unique about the Texas barbecue community.

QUESTION: Would you ever open your own barbecue restaurant?

LAPP: One of my friends, Chip, we like to cook together. We cook for church. They suggested we should open a barbecue restaurant, and they started calling us “Chip and Rusty’s Meat Emporium.” Rusty is my barbecue alter ego. It’s a running joke, I’ve got a window decal that says that, we’ve had aprons and hats made. When we set up my pit and cook something for church, we call it that.

Would I ever (open my own)? No. It’s too hard. I so much respect and admire the people who are able to do it and do it well, and make a living out of it. What I do on a daily basis, practicing law, it’s not easy but it’s a heck of a lot easier than cooking barbecue.

QUESTION: What are you most looking forward to in the new year?

LAPP: I’m looking for the opportunity to take the chamber and the combined Montgomery County chambers to Austin for the legislative session. I’m excited about the work the chamber has done in putting together legislative priorities, that we canvassed the business community about. We’ll let the folks in Austin know what our community thinks is important. I’m excited about the fourth annual Woodlands BBQ Festival that’s in October, and The Woodlands CrawPHish Festival coming up in March. My youngest daughter is a cadet at the Houston Police Academy, and she’ll graduate in March. I’m looking forward to that.

I’m excited about the opportunities that we have, here at the firm. When you’re able to get up every day and be excited about what you’re going to do that day, that’s a good thing. We’re all so blessed to have the opportunity to make a difference, and to take advantage of that opportunity is something I look forward to.

jane.stueckemann@chron.com

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