Management at the 50-yard Line

Bryon Koepke translates his experience as an athlete into his leadership philosophy at Avis Budget Group

Bryon Koepke Senior VP & Chief Securities Counsel Company: Avis Budget Group Location: Parsippany, NJ Legal Insight: “Counselors who are committed to understanding their client’s business and legal needs will open themselves up to a great number of opportunities to achieve success.”

I grew up in a very blue-collar family that raised me to have a strong work ethic and personal drive. I learned early on that sometimes you have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone and take chances if you want to be successful. As a teenager, I traveled three hours a day to attend Mt. Carmel High School in Chicago rather than study close to home because of the opportunities the school presented for academic, athletic, and personal growth. That sacrifice and the many successes that I enjoyed at Mt. Carmel allowed me to attend Vanderbilt on a football scholarship.

After graduating, I worked for a short while as a stockbroker and then for a large global bank. Both jobs helped indoctrinate me to corporate America and taught me how to transfer my experience playing sports into a professional setting. 

Later, I joined Caterpillar as a securities attorney and gained invaluable experience because of my willingness to handle matters that did not necessarily fall under my job description or within my pay grade. My willingness to be a team player is a trait that has helped me throughout my career. 

When I joined Avis Budget Group [ABG] in 2011, I faced several challenges, such as getting to know the rental car industry, building new relationships, and acclimating to legal issues pertinent to the business. I have enjoyed being able to expand the number of the areas in which I counsel the company. While my primary focus is to counsel the company on securities, public disclosure, and corporate governance issues, I also help manage the company’s litigation, contract review, M&A activities, IP, and other special projects. Working with our general counsel and the rest of our legal team has been very fulfilling in terms of rounding out my legal experience.

Trying to manage your career so that you continue to develop and achieve your goals while also managing the needs and careers of other people can be challenging, but this is an area where my experience playing in a team environment really helps me. One of the fun parts of managing a group is knowing the appropriate time to switch from playing the “athlete” to serving as a “coach.” To be an effective leader and coach, you need to know what your team is capable of achieving and be able to identify ways that you can help it achieve success.

We’re a public company, with just under 30,000 employees worldwide, and we have over 10,000 rental locations in approximately 175 countries. Our net revenues for 2013 were just shy of $8 billion, and our total expenses were slightly less than that. As a company, we’re always focused on controlling costs and keeping expenses low, which translates into a lean legal department that has 10 attorneys in the United States and 7 attorneys in Europe. 

While everyone on the legal team has at least one specialty area, we’re groomed to be generalists as well. If I were to describe how our legal team operates in terms of the game of football, I would liken our style to that of the wildcat offense, where in one play you may be the running back, and then in the next play you’re the quarterback. 

Compared to my days of working in a larger legal department, [ABG has] been a great change of pace. It caters well to my background as an athlete [who is] not afraid to work hard, take some chances, and play different positions on the field.