Deborah England Gray
In my third year at BC Law, I took Corporations with Jim Repetti, who was still a practicing corporate lawyer at the time. That course sparked my interest in corporate law and securities regulation. My first job out of law school, I joined the Corporate Department of Hale & Dorr in Boston (now Wilmer Hale), where I worked on seemingly countless corporate deals, IPOs, secondary offerings, mergers and acquisitions. While the workload was extremely intense, I absolutely loved the life of a deal lawyer. It was there one late night that I heard someone beating up on a copy machine down the hall from my office. I could empathize as I had done the same many times. I walked down the hall to offer assistance to a colleague in need. Three years later, I married the copy machine killer.
After five years at Hale & Dorr and being promoted to junior partner, I was at the printers on another late night (more likely early morning) deal with one of the firm’s rain makers sitting across the table from me. We had been at this deal for almost a full week with little hope of it wrapping up any time soon. It was at that moment that I realized that this is not how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. While I appreciated the fabulous work, experience, and opportunities the firm provided to me, it was time to move on.
On to In-house.
So, in 1993, I took an in-house position with Harcourt General in Chestnut Hill, Mass. It was a bit nerve-racking and, according to many partners who tried to persuade me to stay at the firm, career suicide since â€œno oneâ€ moves from a large corporate firm to an in-house job. Well I did, and I loved it. HG was a holding company of three public companies and numerous private companies which allowed me to continue to have a robust securities practice with a lot fewer clients. I thoroughly enjoyed in-house practice where you are a member of the team and get to work on problems and deals from the initial strategy phase all the way through to implementation.
A chance with a start-up.
I may have stayed there forever but was encouraged by a partner at Hale & Dorr to talk with the management team of a small start-up in Kendall Square. He told me they were doing something with technology, and he thought I would be a great fit with the management team. I took his advice and they hired me as their first General Counsel in late 1995. The firm, Sapient Corporation, had about 100 employees at the time and was looking to go public. Within less than six months of me joining the firm we had a blockbuster IPO with two secondary offerings shortly thereafter. At the time, Sapient was building websites and software for companies to help move complete businesses onto the web. The Internet was still such an unknown commodity in the business world the bankers didn’t want to use the word in our IPO prospectus. That of course changed quickly within a few months. Sapient was a red-hot company that was practically doubling in size and revenues just about every quarter. I had the privilege of leading teams in numerous acquisitions and joint ventures in the U.S. and abroad. Great work. I was able to persuade my good friend and BC Law classmate, Susan Kincaid, to join me and help me build the legal team. By the time I left the firm six years later, it had grown to over 3,500 employees with offices all over the world.
I left Sapient thinking I was retiring from the corporate world. Before I even had time to settle into retirement, a friend of mine who had just started in the legal department at Charles River Laboratories in Wilmington, Mass., asked me to come help them out for a bit. They had gone public a year earlier and needed securities regulations/compliance help. I agreed to help out a few hours a week–after the summer was over. Well, wouldn’t you know that summer Sarbanes Oxley was enacted, which meant a lot of new regulations for public companies. My little â€œhelp us out’ job turned into a nine-year stint with Charles River, the last few years as its chief employment lawyer. It was an interesting change being at a mature company with policies and procedures, but I got the itch to be GC again so left to be the first GC of a high-tech start-up called Aquia in Burlington, Mass. Acquia was one of the few companies that figured out how to make money off of open source software by providing services and hosting for Drupal websites. Acquia was growing fast and moving at lightning speed, but after two years of 60-80 hours per work-weeks, I threw in the towel and retired for the second time.
After a few months off, I started my own independent general counsel practice, where I provide GC services to high growth companies. One of my clients introduced me to an educational non-profit called The Achievement Network (ANet) headquartered in Boston that needed help taking another start-up with loads of grant money under its wing. I ran the deal for ANet and then joined them as their General Counsel, while continuing my own practice. ANet’s mission is to close the achievement gap for underprivileged children throughout the United States. I feel so lucky to be able to work for a company with such a meaningful mission.
On a personal note
I live in Winchester, Mass., where my husband and I moved last summer with our miniature husky and our grumpy old cat. Previously, we lived in Andover, Mass., for 21 years where we raised our two daughters: Madelaine (23) and Mackenzie (21). I continue to spend a lot of my free time volunteering for nonprofits. I was very involved with my girls’ schools and my church. I was also a Trustee of Colby College for 12 years, an Overseer of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for three years and am finishing up my 12-year tenure on the Board of Directors of The Home for Little Wanderers, the largest child welfare agency in New England and the oldest in the United States. We travel extensively around the world and I hope I am able to continue that for a long time to come. In November, my husband and I will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary in Southeast Asia. I have stayed in close contact with fellow classmates Susan Kincaid, Toni Torres Ramos, Jennie Pettit Cherry, and Lori Grifa. Life has been crazy busy but wonderful. I look forward to seeing everyone at our milestone 30th reunion this fall.