Deals and Disruption
Working as an attorney for a disruptive technology company is clearly different from doing legal work for a large established company says Scott Askins, the General Counsel of Atlanta-based Kabbage. “You have to be practical and business oriented,” she says. “It’s really all about solving problems.” In her role as “Head” of Legal at Kabbage (like “head” of cabbage, get it?), Askins’ Legal Services Department collaborates with Kabbage’s business teams managing all of its global legal matters, from Kabbage’s recent $525 million asset-backed securitization to the most minute details of regulatory and legal affairs for the Atlanta fintech unicorn. The company’s financial services data and technology platform, which provides automated funding for small businesses in less than 10 minutes, is an industry leader in their niche having extended more than $3 billion in funding to over 100,000 small businesses. Kabbage has landed on several prestigious lists, including CNBC’s Disrupter 50 List, the Inc. 500 list and as one of the best places to work in the U.S. for 2017 through Glassdoor’s Employee Choice Award.
You could say that Askins has done it all before. Prior to joining the company, she served as General Counsel of Premiere Global Services, Inc. (PGI), handling a go-private transaction valued at approximately $1 billion. And in her over 20 years of work for innovative technology companies, she has been responsible for strategic transactions with an aggregate value of over $14 billion. “I’ve worked a lot of long hours in extremely fast-paced environments, but that’s what it takes to make sure that legal keeps up with business in a rapidly evolving technology world,” she says.
Scott Askins was born in Columbia, South Carolina and studied finance at Clemson University with the intention of going into business but ultimately enrolled at the law school of the University of South Carolina. Interestingly, she says that “law school was fine, but I don’t think I use a thing today that I learned there because of the orientation toward litigation with very little focus on corporate law.” She then obtained an LLM in Taxation for the New York University School of Law, but she decided tax law wasn’t really driving her focus on the corporate finance world.
After living in New York City, Askins returned to Columbia, South Carolina for a brief stint with the firm of Nelson Mullins. Transferring to the Atlanta office of Nelson Mullins in early 1996, she immediately went to work on PGI’s IPO. Later that year, Askins moved to Alston & Bird with a team of lawyers. At Alston & Bird, she primarily worked on IPOs and M&A transactions, both on the company and underwriting side.
After less than two years, Askins was asked to join WebMD as Assistant General Counsel, where she was brought in to take them public. “We raised an insane amount of money quickly,” she says. In 1999, WebMD merged with Healtheon, which was one of the largest merger of internet companies at that time. Askins decided to stay on with the combined company, spending a lot of time at Healtheon’s headquarters in Silicon Valley. The company then went on a buying spree. “I worked on over $12 billion in acquisitions in just one and a half years,” she says.
Following an exhausting string of deals, Askins decided to leave the company and take a break. “I spent nearly a year traveling around the world, visiting Southeast Asia, Africa and Alaska,” she says. During an interlude back in Atlanta, Askins ran back into Boland Jones, the CEO of PGI. “He asked me to come work for PGI as a consultant to divest a business unit I had helped PGI acquire as outside counsel.” She then became General Counsel in 2003 and, at that time, was one of the youngest women General Counsels of a publicly traded company in the United States. “Boland gave me the chance at an early stage in my career to focus not only on legal but also more operational aspects of the business in that role, for which I am very grateful.”
Not that there weren’t challenges working for a company whose business was transitioning to a SaaS-based model under the constraints that often come with public company regulation and oversight in often irrational markets from a valuation perspective. Ultimately, PGI went private in a transaction, which closed in December 2015.
So how are things the same or different now that she is back in “start-up” world? “Even though we are a late stage start-up, we move at a fast and furious pace,” she says. The technology differences today vs. as a first year associates is telling – “I used to have to fly to Washington D.C. to get time stamps for SEC filings – that isn’t necessary anymore. Also, I still like to talk over issues on the phone or meet in person, and now I’m surrounded by millennials who communicate by chat, text and social media.”
The physical office environment is also different. “We have an open office layout, no corner offices or even cubicles. It takes a while to get used to, but it is more efficient from a team collaboration perspective, and it’s fun working in what we affectionately refer to as the “Fishbowl.” Walking through the Kabbage offices, you do indeed see the constant buzz of talking and working, talking and working.
Everything seems to be going quite well for the company and for Askins. Kabbage is the main success story that Atlanta boosters point to when talking about the area’s fintech success, and the company is excited with the progress made in executing on their strategy. While headquartered in Atlanta, Kabbage has additional offices in New York City, San Francisco and Bangalore. Kabbage is also expanding internationally, including through strategic alliances with leading global financial institutions that license its SaaS platform, such as ING, Scotia Bank and Santander. In addition, Kabbage co-founded the Innovative Lending Platform Association (ILPA) with OnDeck and CAN Capital to promote transparency, education and advocacy for the industry, including through its SMART Box model disclosure capital comparison tool for small businesses.
“Emerging technology is all about deals and disruption. The job of the business lawyer is to embrace the disruption. I still like a good deal,” says Askins. “Generally the sign of a good deal is when both parties compromise a little so both parties win.” Askins enjoys calling Atlanta home with her eight- year old daughter who attends Paideia School.