Jeff Brandt is corporate counsel at Boardriders, which owns skate and surf brands Billabong, Quiksilver, Roxy, and more. He is also an alumnus of Sidley’s office in Century City. Dan Clivner recently sat down with Jeff to catch up on his Sidley memories, his leap from big law to his current role, and his hobbies as a surfer and painter. Jeff’s paintings hang in Sidley’s offices in Century City and Chicago.
What originally led you to Sidley and what year did you join?
I was a summer associate at a different firm and had the opportunity to follow you, Dan, to Sidley in 2016. When Sidley opened up the Century City office, I talked to my law school mentor [Century City Partner Payom Pirahesh] who worked there. The draw was that it was a small office within a big firm, so you’re not lost in the shuffle and still have access to Sidley’s huge support network and resources.
Do you recall any particular projects or experiences from your time at Sidley?
The one that sticks out most was my work on a presentation for students at UCLA Law about the sale of Lagunitas to Heineken. The clients attended. Even before that, I was kind of a beer snob. I really got into beer and beer-making since that deal.
One of the great things about M&A is that you get to become part of a company for a few months before it’s either bought or sold. You become close with the executive team and really feel integrated, before walking away to something completely new and different. That was always my draw for M&A: the variety and learning aspect of it.
How did you make the leap from Sidley to your current position, which is Corporate Counsel at Boardriders?
I’ve been a surfer for a while. I started surfing in law school because I needed a hobby that would bring more peace of mind, and surfing fit the bill really well. One of the other Sidley lawyers received a call from a recruiter about the role and he was not interested, but referred them to me. I interviewed a few times down in Huntington Beach and felt I could fit in really well with the group. I love learning about new companies and developing institutional knowledge over time, and now had the opportunity to build upon that with brand names I recognized.
What’s been the most surprising thing about your role at Boardriders?
The variety of work. We’ve done a lot of real estate transactions, leases with our retail stores, distribution and IP license agreements, and collaborations with brands like Disney and The Simpsons. Right now, we are working on a collaboration with skate brand DC Shoes and the animated comedy show Bob’s Burgers. You see our deals show up in the store as a physical thing. I try and buy at least one piece from every collection that I’ve worked on because it’s nice to be able to point to something you’re wearing and say “Yeah, that was me.”
Last year and COVID must have been particularly challenging for retail stores. Did it set up a change in industry trends?
Absolutely. I think every company realized people can be productive working from home, but I think it’s also put an emphasis on face time. I think you’ll see a lot of hybrid workplaces, with the recognition that you do need to be in the office sometimes to collaborate on things you can’t do over Zoom.
For the retail industry, e-commerce has exploded. But retail stores are open again and we do see people coming back in and sales going up. With COVID, everyone was shut down for so long that they came up with outdoor hobbies. Surfing has boomed in the last year. I think surf brands are going to do well through this, along with mountain biking, snowboarding, and skiing.
Did private practice prepare you for this in-house position?
M&A practice prepares you to move in-house because you’re the quarterback of the deal. A lot of what you do as general counsel is that while you may not be the expert, you learn how to coordinate other people’s expertise when preparing, for example, a license agreement or athlete sponsorship. I know who to ask and how to understand what compensation incentives should look like.
When I took this role, Sidley provided coaching to help me make the transition to in-house practice. That coaching continued for a few months into the role. How do you approach the transition? What are the common hang-ups that a private firm lawyer usually runs into when becoming general counsel? How do you build trust among your non-lawyer partners? Talking through these types of issues was really helpful.
Was there a piece of advice that you specifically took to heart and can give to others?
“Don’t spin your wheels; ask a question.” The more questions you ask, the better you’re going to be as a lawyer. As lawyers, we kind of have this ego that says “I should know how to do this and I should get this done myself.” But honestly, most of our job is asking questions and trying to figure problems out, rather than solving them on our own.
I think that’s important. There’s no reason to struggle through a problem that you don’t know the answer to without checking with others. Besides the law, what are you passionate about?
I don’t consider myself an artist but I do like to paint and create things. One of the first pieces I made was for a girlfriend at the time and we were super into Jackson Pollock. I built a frame, cut the canvas, and just created something — she was super excited about it. Over the years, I’ve gotten bigger and bigger in scope. I have one in my backyard now that’s just a massive piece with mixed media, spray paint, and splatter. Painting is one of my favorite hobbies because it has a tangible result and the process is just really fun.
We at Sidley consider you an artist. As you know, two pieces of your art hang in the Century City and Chicago offices.
I’ve seen the picture of it in Chicago and it kind of blows me away every time to see that something I made is in an office, mounted as if it was really special.
Thanks, Jeff, for sharing your time and passion with us at Sidley.
Published July 2021 - UPDATE: Currently Associate General Counsel at Boardriders
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