As general counsel-USA and UK for Eye Mall Media (USA) LLC and the sole lawyer in his legal department, Stephen Erickson has to do it all. But he’s prepared for that challenge because of his broad experience, ranging from litigation to corporate work, compliance matters to leases, and bankruptcy to initial public offerings.
“That’s what makes him so strong as an in-house lawyer,” says Vickie Leady, Erickson’s former legal department boss at Schlotzsky’s Inc. in Austin. “He’s just kind of picked the best of all different worlds. He kind of has a good combination to be in-house.”
Erickson, who is based in Eye Mall Media’s office in Austin, worked as a litigation associate with McGinnis, Lochridge & Kilgore in Austin before moving to Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati to do corporate and venture capital work. Then he worked on the in-house side at Austin’s Works Operating Co., an Internet/software company,and as a securities/compliance lawyer at Schlotzsky’s before he became GC for Eye Mall Media, an Austin-based unit of Australia-based parent Eye Corp.
Eye Mall Media places what’s known as out-of-home marketing — mostly large, static, back-lit displays and some large, digital units that play videos — in shopping malls in the United States. The company’s U.K. displays are in airports, he says.
His GC job on two continents is a great and challenging opportunity, he says. “As GC you touch every part of the business, whether it’s litigation or HR or collection matters,” says Erickson, noting that the global general counsel for parent Eye Corp. is based in Sydney, Australia.
GC Amanda Stephens writes in response to an e-mail that Erickson provides legal services to Eye’s U.S. and U.K. businesses “largely on his own.” She says that, along with his GC responsibilities, he serves on the senior management team in the United States, a role that gives him insight into Eye’s business opportunities and challenges and helps the company avoid legal risks.
EYES on the prize
Stephen Erickson was sure about one thing when looking for a job after graduating from Duke University School of Law in 1995: He wanted to return to his hometown of Austin. During law school, he was a summer associate with Fulbright & Jaworski in Houston and at Thompson & Knight in Dallas, but Austin held his heart.
He landed a job as a litigation associate with Austin’s McGinnis, Lochridge, but he moved to the Austin office of Wilson Sonsini in early 2000.
“I said, ‘OK, let’s get the corporate experience.’ The thought was going in-house with a company right before it went public and get rich. I got half of that,” Erickson says in reference to the dot-com bust that led to a decline in venture capital business and the demise of many startup companies during the early 2000s.
In 2002, Erickson did go in-house, but not at a client. He took a corporate counsel position in the legal department of Works Operating Co. in Austin.
“They were looking for somebody to come in-house, do contracts, licensing work, which I really hadn’t done before, and handle litigation for them. They wanted to handle as much as possible in-house,” Erickson says.
In 13 months, Erickson says, he was able to negotiate settlements of five pieces of litigation involving Works, and he handled a number of licensing deals.
With that experience under his belt, Erickson says he decided it would help his career to move to a public company. In 2003, he took a compliance position at well-known Austin restaurant company Schlotzsky’s, where he was associate general counsel working for GC Leady.
“I went over there thinking Schlotzsky’s would be a lot more stable than a startup,” Erickson says, noting that his thinking was proven wrong after Schlotzsky’s filed for bankruptcy in 2004 and subsequently was acquired in 2006 by venture capital company Roark Capital Group of Atlanta. Schlotzsky’s is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Atlanta-based Focus Brands Inc., which is owned by Roark.
The challenges of Schlotzsky’s financial troubles created a silver lining for Erickson’s career, however, as he obtained bankruptcy experience. While hired for securities and compliance work, Erickson says he also did franchising and employment work before leaving the company in January 2007.
In April 2007, Erickson says he took the GC job at Eye Mall Media, which had moved into the U.S. market in 2006 when it acquired Media Choice LLC of Austin. His GC job was a new position, he says.
Erickson says most of his legal duties deal with contracts, but he also oversees litigation, intellectual property and employment matters.
“It’s contracts for the most part, with suppliers, vendors, leases for malls to lease out the space for advertising. The largest number of contracts are ad contracts with advertisers,” he says.
The advertising displays are in about 250 malls nationwide. He says movie studios are big clients, particularly at malls with movie theaters. Other companies that buy the advertising include mall tenants, auto dealers, jewelry stores, the U.S. armed services and entertainment companies, he says.
Erickson says Eye Mall Media’s sales force, primarily based in New York City or Los Angeles, typically negotiates advertising contracts with individual advertisers, but he handles contracts with mall operators, suppliers and others.
Erickson says he does a lot of the work in-house; his outside counsel budget ranges between $100,000 and $200,000 a year. He regularly uses Bill Raman, a partner in Wong Cabello in Austin, for IP work, and Tom Nesbitt, a partner in DeShazo & Nesbitt in Austin, and Bruce Griggs, a shareholder in Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart in Austin, for employment matters.
For some litigation matters that now have been resolved, Erickson says he has used Matt Dow, a partner in Jackson Walker in Austin.
Dow says Erickson is a pleasure to work for because he knows where to draw the line between being involved in litigation and letting outside counsel do their job.
“He wants to know what your plan is and why that is the plan, and then he may have some input with that, and he allows you to do your job,” Dow says.
Leady, Erickson’s former boss at Schlotzsky’s who is now senior corporate counsel for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the nonprofit that operates the state’s power grid, says Erickson has an engaging personality, savvy legal skills and pragmatic insight into business operations.
Leady says, “Very, very few other attorneys I’ve worked with had such a balance.”
Erickson says he enjoys his GC role at Eye Mall Media because he also has an opportunity to be involved in business issues by helping set strategy and budgets.
Erickson and his wife Suzanne, a political consultant, have 4-year-old twin sons and a 14-month-old son, so he has little spare time. Prior to the birth of his children, Erickson says he competed regularly in triathalons and hopes to do a sprint triathlon this fall.
Brenda Sapino Jeffreys is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BrendaSJeffreys.
“GC of Financial Services Company Knows Ins and Outs of Purchasing Annuity Payments“
“Location, Location, Location: GC Guides Texas Real Estate Commission“
“He Knows the Drill: It’s an Interesting Time to Be in the Houston Oil Industry“
“Cutting Edge: GC’s Company Designs and Markets Medical Devices“
“Animal House: GC’s Transactions Involve Cattle, Chickens and Pigs“
“Hitting The Brakes: Ending Drunk Driving Is GC’s Goal“
“Bonds, State Bonds: Texas Public Finance Authority GC Susan Durso Makes a Career Out of State Service“
“Crafting a Career: Michaels Stores General Counsel Enjoys Piecing It All Together“
“Come Hell or High Water: Belo Corp. Assistant GC Toni Nguyen Reflects on Her Trials and Triumphs“
“Growth Industry: GC of Behavioral Health Company Says Seeing Kids Flourish Is Best Part of His Job“
“Digging Deep: Despite Tanking Economy, Business for Service-Sector Franchise Company Hums“
“The Nitty-Gritty of Governing“
“Checking In: GC Has No Reservations About How He Works With Outside Counsel“
“Third Time’s the Charm: Three Is a Magic Number for The Woodlands Development Co.“