Irina Braude | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND

From Ukraine with Purpose
By Karen Rosen

Irina Braude couldn’t tell many of her friends in the former Soviet Union that she was leaving.
“We just disappeared,” said Braude, then a tennis player ranked No. 11 in her age group in the USSR.

Braude was 14 when her family arrived in Columbia, South Carolina – the community that offered to take them in -- as Jewish refugees. They had $2,000, eight suitcases and no passports, which were confiscated by the Soviet government.

While the USSR eventually fell apart, Braude found success in her new country. She is currently Associate General Counsel for Carter’s Inc., the Atlanta-based company which sells baby and children’s clothes under the Carter’s and OshKosh B’Gosh brand names.

“There’s nothing better than dressing kids,” Braude says. “Everybody wants kids to be comfortable, to look good and everybody wants their parents to be able to afford the clothing.”
When Braude was growing up in the former Soviet Union, retail stores had little variety even when they actually had goods for sale.

While that lack of choice affected everyone, anti-Semitism made life difficult for her family in Kiev, now Ukraine. Braude’s parents, who were computer programmers, feared they would be sent to Siberia. They worried that there would be no opportunities for Irina and her younger sister. Braude’s father often listened to “Voice of America” on a shortwave radio in the bathroom and when the opportunity arose to emigrate, the family was eager to go.

Adapting to their new country, though, took some time.

“I went to school and I barely spoke any English,” Braude recalls. “My first day somebody got French fries for me and I didn’t know whether I should eat them with a fork and a knife.”
After a couple of years, the family moved to Boston because Braude’s father got a new job.  She returned to the South to attend college at Duke University, where she majored in economics and then attended law school.

Braude was a nationally ranked tennis player in the U.S. before deciding to devote her time to academics at Duke.  “Playing tennis competitively certainly taught me how to remain calm and perform well under pressure, which has been very important in my career,” she says. “As lawyers, we often deal with last minute emergencies and situations where almost split-second decision-making is required.”

Braude had been interested in law since moving to the U.S. and noting that the constitution in the former Soviet Union bore similarities to the American constitution.

“The same kind of rights are actually written in there -- and some of the protections are even better on paper,” Braude says, “but it obviously never played out that way in the society. Given I grew up under two different regimes and two different philosophies, I was interested in seeing how one legal system based on a very similar document could turn out one way versus the other way.”

Braude initially thought about going into international law, but discovered her interests were more in the business/corporate area.

Following graduation, Braude became an associate at Ropes & Gray LLC in Boston where she advised public and private companies on securities and governance matters, corporate transactions, licensing and brand management.

She was able to use her native language representing a Russian vodka company when it launched in the U.S. Braude helped set up distribution agreements, register the trademark and put together launch parties in Miami and New York.

“Growing up in two different and opposite cultures gives me a unique perspective, helps me understand global business and legal issues and has allowed me to zero in on the most appropriate solutions for multi-national clients,” she says.

Braude did some work with Carter’s and got along so well with the former general counsel that she decided to join the company in December of 2009.  She and her husband Mike, who is also originally from Ukraine, were looking to move south for the warmer weather.

“I visited and loved it,” Braude says. “It was a really different atmosphere from the law firm. It’s a different world. If you go into our offices, there are pictures of babies everywhere and the bathrooms are called the Boys’ Room and the Girls’ Room. It’s a very inspirational place because there are a lot of designers, a lot of new ideas.”

She did have one challenge. “I didn’t know anything about children’s clothes and I didn’t have any children at the time yet, either,” Braude says.

She now has a very particular 4-year-old daughter, Alyssa, “so I know way more about children’s clothing than I ever thought I would.”

A lot of Braude’s work in Boston transferred well to Carter’s, the largest branded marketer in the United States of apparel and related products exclusively for babies and young children. Carter’s owns two of the most highly recognized and most trusted brand names in the children's apparel industry, Carter's and OshKosh B'gosh.  These brands are sold in leading department stores, national chains, and specialty retailers and through more than 800 Carter’s-operated stores in the United States and Canada.

Braude is responsible for public company reporting, negotiating M&A and financing transactions, managing the company's IP matters, commercial contracting and licensing arrangements.  “Being able to combine legal expertise with business-oriented advice is one of the most rewarding experiences for me,” she says. “I think good business judgment is so important for a lawyer in order to be an effective adviser.  We live in a highly complex, fast-paced business world that requires a practical, problem-solving approach to deal with its challenges.  I think my multi-cultural upbringing, competitive tennis player background, degree in law and economics, and investment banking experience give me a good foundation to take on those challenges.”

Braude and her family live in East Cobb and she plays tennis in her spare time – though at a much more recreational level than when she played in the same tournaments as Anna Kournikova.

When shopping for clothes, Braude tries to make sure daughter Alyssa wears only Carter’s or OshKosh apparel, but she does have to make an exception for one particular type of dress.
“She likes the Disney princesses,” she says, “so we have to get that, too.”

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