Making leap to in-house counsel like ‘ultimate backstage pass’
Over the course of his almost 30-year professional career, working for the U.S. Department of Treasury right out of law school, then for a private firm, and later as an investment banker, sometimes it’s hard to tell by glancing at John Bruno’s resume whether he’s devoted to practicing the law or dedicated to the financial arena. But the 1983 graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law says he’s certain of where his job interests lie.
“Being a lawyer is like being a priest. You’re always a lawyer,” Bruno said. “My entire career has just always been focused on financial institutions.”
Bruno now serves as vice president and deputy general counsel at The Auto Club Group. He joined the AAA Club, which is headquartered in Dearborn, Mich., at the start of the year, leaving his position at international law firm Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP, where he worked in the Washington, D.C. office.
Referring to his hiring at the Auto Club as “unusual,” Bruno said the job change was “a special opportunity” for him. The Auto Club was a client of his at Locke Lord, and the group offered him a position, due in part to his banking background. The Auto Club is in the midst of growing its own recently started bank for members.
“I jumped at the opportunity,” Bruno said. “One of my favorite things to do as an attorney is mergers and acquisitions and IPOs for banks.”
After graduating from Moritz, Bruno was one of only five attorneys hired at the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. After four years with the OCC, Bruno then worked at a private practice for nine years and thereafter moved back to Columbus to work as an investment banker for Keefe, Bruyette & Woods before joining Locke Lord.
“The investment banking work allowed me to do mergers and acquisitions and IPOs from more of a financial angle,” Bruno said. “Taking two separate companies and creating one great company out of the two is very rewarding for me.”
Despite his career changes, Bruno never worked in-house before his position at the Auto Club. Thus, he had never seen the integration process between companies in mergers he previously orchestrated. As vice president and deputy general counsel, his first in-house position, he is pleased to be a part of the integration process nearly every step of the way.
“The thing I’m finding out about being a lawyer (in-house) is it’s the ultimate backstage pass,” Bruno said, mentioning he handles legal issues involving banking, insurance, corporate, litigation, tax, and employment. “Everything this company does, the legal department touches. We’re not viewed as the guys who say ‘no.’ We’re viewed as partners who get the job done.”
Although retirement is far off, Bruno said he’s finished with broadening his career because he’s more than satisfied with where he is now at the Auto Club.
“I think this is it. This is the crowning achievement for me,” he said. “At 54, I don’t see myself moving anywhere else.”
He credited Ohio State for his accomplishments and ability to make several beneficial career moves.
“It’s a fabulous University, and my education has carried me well beyond places I ever thought I would go,” he said. “The education I received at Ohio State, the people I met, really gave me a huge advantage in what I think has been a pretty darn good career in my life.”
In appreciation of his education, last year Bruno created a scholarship called the Bruno Family Fund, which is awarded to two incoming Ohio State students from Lorain County every year. The scholarship was awarded to its first recipients this year.
“It’s just kind of my small way of saying ‘thank you,’ ” Bruno said. “It’s not much, but it’s the little things that count.”
This article was written by Sarah Pfledderer.