Becoming a General Counsel

Editor’s Note: In this last of the series of interviews by my cousin Tony Bowe, he asked me how and when I shifted my career as a lawyer from private practice to serving in successive roles as a General Counsel of several companies.

I began by explaining that I was first recruited away from private practice in early 1979.  I was approached about my possible interest in becoming General Counsel of The Bradford Exchange, Ltd, a collectibles company headquartered in the Chicago suburb of Niles, Illinois.  At the time, its business was selling collectors plates by direct mail.  The company was relatively new, having been started by J. Roderick MacArthur.  Rod, as he was known, was the only son of billionaire John D. MacArthur.  The senior MacArthur had recently died, leaving his considerable fortune to the John D. and Catherine C. MacArthur Foundation. Rod was the only family member to be involved with the Foundation and he was becoming increasingly agitated by what he saw as serious flaws in the Foundation’s organization and direction.  The work Rod was doing with the Foundation, if not his budding dispute with fellow directors, was intriguing enough for me to accept the offer to become Bradford’s General Counsel.  In that role, I also helped Rod with some of his Foundation work.  Rod, and his assistant Ken Hope, were developing the detailed structure of  the MacArthur Fellows program.  Hope later went on to become the first director of the program.  The MacArthur Foundation’s novel approach to philanthropy quickly became popularly referred to in the media as the “Genius Grants,” after the large sums given to individuals doing work assessed as being of exceptional merit.

During this period, I explained to Tony about the premature birth of our son Andy, his successful struggle to finally emerge from a neonatal intensive care unit, and the attendant rapid ascent of Cathy and me into serious adulthood and parenting responsibilities.  I also report on our brief return to my old Elm Street apartment and our later life on Wisconsin Street in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood.

I went on to discuss my brief return to private practice as Of Counsel, before taking the job of Assistant General Counsel for the news wire service United Press International and moving with Cathy and Andy to Nashville, Tennessee.  I described for Tony how UPI’s grossly inept owner/managers help speed the company into bankruptcy, and my elevation to UPI’s General Counsel role in the process.  I report on our second child Patrick’s birth in Nashville, and the family’s return to the Chicago area in 1986 when I was selected to become General Counsel of the venerable reference publisher Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.