LEADERSHIP IN LAW 2020: Jonathon Wright

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IL photo/Eric Learned

A few years ago, when publicly traded Hurco Companies went looking for a general counsel, the machine tool technology firm found its match in young attorney Jonathon Wright. His MBA and prior large-firm work ethic placed him years above his peers and distinguished him from more veteran attorneys. He since has handled such complex matters as Hurco’s international reorganization and global facilities expansions. In the community, he works to improve the lives of the less fortunate and is an active supporter of arts organizations, among other work.

What is your advice for attorneys interested in transitioning to a career as in-house counsel?

First and foremost, take the time to truly learn your new employer’s business and to better understand both your executive team’s style and its appetite for risk. You can only offer valuable counsel to the extent you understand the issues in their context and will be most effective when your communication and practice style complements the culture of your organization and management team. Secondly, be practical and decisive. Lawyers are trained to be risk-adverse and certain elements of private practice reinforce those tendencies. Understand that legal risk is just one of many factors to be considered in making an informed business decision. And, be prepared for the fact that the pace at which decisions must be made in the corporate world is often measured in hours, if not in minutes. So, by all means, take what time is available to be prepared and to be thoughtful/strategic, but take a position and offer your recommendation within the appropriate timeframe (something that likely applies equally to those in private practice, as well).

What do you most like to do when you have free time?

My wife and I just completed a renovation of our Lockerbie home, which was built in early 1861. Obviously, there is no shortage of projects to spend your free time on when you own a house that was built before the Civil War! When not at home, we love to spend time outside and be active — whether it be hopping on the Monon for a bike ride to Broad Ripple or walking the Cultural Trail downtown to stop into one of the many shops or restaurants. I also love to cook — sometimes to my wife’s chagrin.

What were some of the things you had to do when becoming Hurco’s first general counsel?

The first (and most welcome) thing was to stop counting my professional life in six-minute increments (though, admittedly, to this day, if I wake up in the middle of the night, I can still tell you what time it is within a five minute margin of error). Perhaps the more challenging adjustments related to transitioning from a specialized private practice in corporate law, mergers & acquisitions and capital formation, to a generalist managing the broader legal function for a public, industrial technology company with a truly global footprint. More specifically, this transition required me to more heavily rely on specialized outside counsel for certain highly technical substantive issues and local counsel for legal issues arising in all corners of the world. And, on a more personal (and humbling) level, the experience resembled the process I think most attorneys feel during their first few years of practice — that is, when dealing with a truly diverse range of legal issues that are novel to you (both from a substantive and jurisdictional perspective), you have to get comfortable with the fact that you will not necessarily have firsthand knowledge and experience with every issue that comes your way. On any given day, I may be presented with issues related to U.S. securities laws, corporate law under any of the numerous international jurisdictions where we have subsidiaries, labor or real estate laws, international trade matters, or those related to company group risk management in general. It took some time to build a comfort level in shifting from being a subject matter expert in a more specialized area of substantive law (where you more often than not may already have answers to relevant legal questions in hand) to a role where I add a lot of value on issues presented by connecting people with the appropriate expertise and experience, and getting to an answer in the most efficient and effective way possible.

What got you interested in volunteering for organizations that support the arts?

I genuinely believe that food, music, culture, art and theater all contribute to reinforce a community built on a better quality of life and more diverse perspective. It’s always surprising for me to hear people talk about Indy as a place that is lacking in the arts. My experience couldn’t be further from that sentiment. As a downtown resident, there is always a diverse range of concerts, plays, restaurants and exhibitions to enjoy within steps of our home. I enjoy contributing to, or volunteering for, organizations that support the arts because I think it leads to a better place to live — a richer and more diverse neighborhood and community.

Who is someone who mentored you, and what did you learn from them?

I’ve been blessed with a great group of professional mentors. Both at Carson LLP and Dentons Bingham Greenebaum, I was surrounded with a group of super-talented and brilliant attorneys. More importantly, they were all genuinely good people — you know, the co-workers you actually want to grab that coffee or beer with after work. I’d say one of the most important lessons I learned from my practice group members at each firm was to be practical in my approach to the law and when making recommendations to clients (whether internal or external) on legal issues. I can tell you as someone who manages outside counsel on a daily basis, a practical perspective escapes some practitioners. Unless there is a compelling reason, a thesis on a legal issue is almost never cost-justified, nor is negotiating over an academic position on a commercial agreement or examining the exception to the exception to the exception on an academic probability that will never occur. Mentors throughout my career approached the practice of law with a practical perspective, which in my experience (both on the giving and receiving end) is almost always a better result for the client, not to mention it focuses the analysis and issues on those things that are most relevant for the client’s position. My mentors also taught me that my job as an attorney is to help our clients make informed decisions — not to avoid risk at all costs, not to capitalize on opportunity without regard to inherent and material risk, and not to ignore other factors in a decision matrix.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Marry Jennifer Tudor — it will be the best decision of your life!

Where do you see yourself professionally in another 10 years?

I definitely hope to be working with my current team at Hurco — just a great group of really fun and unique individuals, with the highest integrity. I want to continue to be in a role where I am making a significant contribution, adding value, and meeting with challenging and diverse professional projects/issues.

What do you think you might be doing if you weren’t a lawyer?

That’s a tough question. I love my job, but I’d probably be a vet. I love animals. We have a chocolate Labrador and a cat, but I am notorious for trying to convince my wife to sign up for more pets (with limited success so far).•
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