February 07, 2020 Profile

Profiles: Editorial Board Member: John Okray

“As it happens with many serendipitous things in life, my involvement in TIPS began 20 years ago as a result of a chance encounter,” explains John Okray, a new member of The Brief editorial board. During law school, he was active in the ABA Law Student Division as its national vice-chair. While attending the ABA Midyear Meeting in Dallas, Texas, in February of 2000, he considered himself fortunate to meet Robert (Bob) Caldwell, another law student who was active in the ABA. Bob, being someone who John says was a great salesperson for TIPS then and is to this day, encouraged him to attend TIPS activities during the conference. “Bob and I actually met on the shuttle from the airport to the car rental facility. Talk about being in the right place at the right time,” he reflects. In the bar year that followed, John served as the law student member of the TIPS Council. “This gave me an incredible opportunity to meet and get to know TIPS leaders, many of whom I am privileged to be collaborating with today,” John says. He adds, “I have always felt that TIPS provides one of the best bar association opportunities, not only substantively, but also in terms of the emphasis that leadership and staff have consistently placed on maintaining such a welcoming and positive culture for Section members.”

Joining The Brief editorial board fit well with John’s passion for TIPS, legal writing, and publications. He previously served on the editorial boards of the Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Law Journal and TIPS Book Publishing, and he recently completed a term as editor in chief of The Federal Lawyer magazine, published by the Federal Bar Association. He has written substantive articles for various ABA publications, including The Brief, and has authored and coauthored a number of legal-related books, including two published by ABA Publishing. One of his favorite bylined articles continues to be “Female Corporate Directors Pay Dividends for Corporations and their Countries,” published in the ABA’s Business Law Today in 2014 (http://www.americanbar.org/groups/business_law/publications/blt/2014/01/05_okray/), in which he explored how countries with significant participation of females in corporate leadership also tend comparatively to be the wealthiest, most prosperous, best educated, least corrupt, and happiest.

John completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. As a political science major, he felt lucky to have opportunities to serve as president of the student body and as a member of the university system board of trustees. Thereafter, he joined Palmer & Dodge LLP in Boston (which ultimately merged into Locke Lorde LLP), working full-time as the manager of trust services at the firm while completing a joint JD/MBA program at Suffolk University. Upon graduation from Suffolk, he moved to Cambridge Trust Company, where he served as director of trust services while obtaining his LLM in taxation from Boston University School of Law.

Desiring a change of scenery after living in the Boston area for many years, John joined OppenheimerFunds in New York City, a registered investment adviser with over $300 billion in assets under management. He worked closely with the investment department leadership, focusing on legal matters for all equity and international fixed-income funds. He also served as chairperson of the proxy voting committee and was proud to revise the firm’s philosophy to support shareholder proposals promoting better corporate governance and sustainable environmental practices. He recalls that at that time, many portfolio company executives viewed environmental, social, and governance issues as a nuisance, dismissing those who promoted them as “gadflies.” John performed similar legal duties when he subsequently joined American Beacon Advisors near Dallas, serving as deputy general counsel and assistant secretary. Having enjoyed exposure to private equity at American Beacon, he later joined Cornell University as the managing director of operations in its investment office. John considered this to be a unique opportunity to help lead a sophisticated investment office, but from a serene location in Ithaca, New York.

When Cornell relocated its investment office to New York City, John opted instead to move back to the Dallas area, where he joined Solovis, Inc,. as general counsel. He had developed a relationship with Solovis and its leadership as a client since the company’s infancy and was excited to be a part of its rapid expansion. Having spent his career up to that point on the investment “buy-side,” he welcomed the opportunity to work on the vendor side at an investment-related technology company. Apart from typical issues around contracts, corporate governance, employment, and intellectual property, a major area of focus for the firm’s leadership has been cybersecurity. To this end, John recommends that any similarly situated in-house counsel should join the TIPS Cybersecurity and Data Privacy Committee, which he has found highly relevant.

John encourages all readers of this profile who haven’t yet found their permanent home in the organized bar to become active in TIPS. Specifically, he believes that attending an annual TIPS Section Conference is an excellent way to meet both seasoned veterans of the Section and other members who are new to national meetings. His suggestions include attending social activities and meetings of substantive standing committees to explore opportunities to become more formally involved. “If you hold your hand up at a TIPS meeting or event, you will get called on,” John says. “It’s not the same as some bar entities that have cliques, heavy politics, or long and rigid leadership ladders; in TIPS, there are opportunities to get materially involved at an early stage.” He describes TIPS as being more of a meritocracy in which those who have a genuine interest and can spare even a modicum of time will find colleagues who are pleasant to work with and are always welcoming of their peers. Additionally, he urges TIPS members to employ their talents as writers, whether for The Brief, a TIPS substantive committee newsletter, a book, or some other publication. “The TIPS staff is extremely helpful in guiding members throughout the publication process. It is not a daunting experience and is a great way of giving back to the Section and gaining exposure for you and your firm,” John attests.

Outside of the responsibilities at his firm, John serves as an adjunct faculty member at the Texas Christian University Neeley School of Business and as a trustee and chair of the investment committee of the Securities and Exchange Commission Historical Society. When time permits, he enjoys traveling—particularly internationally—to new and culturally interesting destinations. He can be reached at johnokray@gmail.com.

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