Podcast: Women @ RopesTalk: Conversation with Mallory Capasso, Luxury Brand Partners
In this episode of Women @ RopesTalk, hosted by IP transactions partner Megan Baca, IP transactions partner Erica Han interviews Mallory Capasso, general counsel and vice president of legal and regulatory at Luxury Brand Partners (LBP), a company that develops and nurtures prestigious, artist-driven beauty brands. Mallory shares her experience moving from a law firm to becoming the only in-house counsel at LBP, where she handles everything from trademark policy to employment issues, corporate work, board work and privacy laws, to running the company’s regulatory department. Reflecting on the keys to success in this multi-faceted role, Mallory emphasizes the importance of communication, staying curious, nurturing a great culture, having mentors and role models—especially seeing other successful women—and having the courage and confidence to bring new ideas to the table and be a changemaker.
Megan Baca: Welcome, and thank you for joining us on our latest installment of Women @ RopesTalk, a podcast series brought to you by the Women's Forum at Ropes & Gray. In this podcast, we spotlight extraordinary women who have had successful careers and interesting lives, and are also making a positive impact in their workplaces and in their communities. We feature women attorneys at Ropes & Gray in conversation with prominent women clients, industry leaders, entrepreneurs and others, about their careers, what's led to their successes, the challenges they’ve faced, and the hard-earned wisdom they've acquired. I’m Megan Baca, a partner at Ropes & Gray with a practice focusing on intellectual property and technology transactions, and I’m also co-head of our firm’s digital health initiative. I’m based in Silicon Valley. On this episode, I’m joined by my colleague, Erica Han, who’s based in Boston. Erica, thanks for joining us—why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself, and provide an overview of your practice.
Erica Han: Thanks, Megan. I’m Erica Han—I’m a partner in the IP transactions group in the Boston office at Ropes & Gray. My practice focuses on transactions and counseling—especially for consumer branded companies—with a particular focus on trademarks and rights of publicity. So, I do transactions ranging from IP licensing agreements, whole-business securitizations, supply chain transactions, sponsorship and endorsement deals, and then clearance, enforcement and strategy for brands and branded companies.
Megan Baca: Who are you going to be interviewing today on the podcast?
Erica Han: Today, I’m interviewing our client Mallory Capasso, who’s the general counsel of Luxury Brand Partners, which is a really interesting company that incubates cosmetics and beauty brands. She’s really interesting and a great person to talk to.
Megan Baca: How did you two meet?
Erica Han: Mallory joined Luxury Brand Partners after I was already their outside counsel. When she started, we just instantly clicked, and I was really encouraged by her insight and her drive to improve processes at the company. Together, we’ve worked on implementing a lot of changes and policies at Luxury Brand Partners so that they can be thinking proactively, rather than reactively, on their IP strategy. So, it’s really been a pleasure to get to know her and see her career evolve.
Megan Baca: Given your practice and all the interesting things they have going on, it sounds like some really interesting work. What are the most noteworthy matters that you have worked on together?
Erica Han: We’ve worked on a number of really interesting projects, including some cutting edge stuff now focused on the metaverse and virtual beauty products. Some of the more memorable projects for me include the sale of the Oribe beauty company to Kao Corporation, which is one of the leading consumer brand companies in the world. So, that was really fun to have seen Oribe through its incubation into a grown-up company ready to be sold. And just a personal fun project for me that we recently worked on was a collaboration with the band Third Eye Blind—they created some nail polish colors based on the band’s songs. It was a favorite of mine as a youth, so that was a fun one to do, as well.
Megan Baca: Nail polish colors—that’s fantastic. That’s not the first thing I would think of when I think of Third Eye Blind. So, Mallory, it sounds like, has a pretty interesting job. In terms of her career, what’s most interesting to you?
Erica Han: I think what really impresses me about Mallory is her courage and curiosity to bring about change. Even if she is the only woman at the table, one of the youngest people at the table or new to the table, she realizes the power of her voice, and her ability to ask questions and see things from a new perspective—that ranges from how she got her job in the first place by taking a chance, taking a stand and convincing people that it was time to make a change to her approach to litigation and deals that we’ve done. I think she really just holds her own and helps people understand that there’s more than one right way to do things. She asks the right questions and brings about great success for her clients.
Megan Baca: That sounds so great—I can’t wait to hear more. So, with that, I will just turn it over to you and Mallory.
Erica Han: Mallory, thank you so much for joining us today for this installment of the podcast. I have been really looking forward to this. We've known each other for many years at this point and I think your story and your perspective on your career is so interesting. So, excited to have you to myself to get to ask you these questions today and hopefully share with others who could learn from your experience. Maybe we could just start off by having you introduce yourself to our listeners, and tell us about your title and what you do at Luxury Brand Partners, and a little more about what Luxury Brand Partners is.
Mallory Capasso: My name's Mallory Capasso. I live in South Florida now. Luxury Brand Partners is headquartered in Miami, but I’m truly a Midwesterner and always will be at heart. I have no idea how I ended up in South Florida except for the job, really. Luxury Brand Partners is such a unique company. We develop and nurture prestige and artist-driven beauty brands. We currently have seven luxury beauty companies in our portfolio, and have launched, developed and sold multiple brands such as Oribe and BECCA Cosmetics. Currently, I am their only in-house counsel—I'm the vice president of legal and regulatory. And I think it would be safe to say that I do about everything, being the only attorney for the parent company and the seven brands. I'm responsible for trademark policy (which I have my guru, you, my guardian angel for trademark), employment issues, corporate work, the board work, general regulations, privacy laws, and I've also been put in charge, as I said, of our regulatory department, which is a beast in itself. As a smaller company, I'm not advising on the huge, esoteric issues so much that have been vetted by a number of people as you would at a huge company because we operate a lot like a startup because of our business model to develop, nurture and sell companies. Some days, I'm just trying to explain the basics to some of our teams of why you have to sign a contract, or why you don't do deals over email. There's just a lot to do in terms of groundwork in educating each of the brands and the new people coming on for the brands. And, especially with technology, it's gotten so much more complicated in terms of our job and what we need to learn every day, being in-house.
Erica Han: First of all, it's astonishing that you do as much as you do, being the sole person in the legal department—it’s incredible. But also, you have I think what would be considered multiple types of jobs, even regardless of legal specialty, because you have the day-to-day operations of multiple brands that are operating their own businesses with their own aesthetic, goals and trajectory, and the day-to-day "How are we going to grow this company and sell products?" And then you also have the broader, big-picture considerations of what's the exit strategy? Are we thinking about setting this company up in terms of financing or a sale to another strategic buyer, or whatever that is? As an incubator, you're thinking multiple steps ahead, in addition to what do you have to do tomorrow. Is that difficult, to have to wear those different hats and be thinking about both at all times in your job?
Mallory Capasso: I like to think and I feel like a good part of my personality is thriving in chaos. And I would definitely say that this is a chaotic environment, but I really enjoy that. I think a large part of being in-house anywhere is that you wear so many hats, and you have to develop so many skillsets in that you have different issues pop up each day that have nothing to do with what you worked on yesterday. But I think Luxury Brand Partners (or LBP) is unique in that I am working on different brands, different products, different personalities within those brands every single day, and all with the mindset of keeping overhead low, so we try to keep our use of outside counsel super reasonable. Every issue that comes up, we're not just getting someone who specializes in that area, which is a lot of research and spending a lot of time trying to figure out those issues in-house to preserve those costs.
Erica Han: One thing that I've noticed, having known you for so long and worked with you, is that you've figured out how to develop a relationship and have the trust of C-suite executives within Luxury Brand Partners as well as the creative team, which often have different goals or different points of view coming to an issue. And from my point of view, seeing you interact with all sides of the company, you have a seat at the table. You're not one of those legal counsel or in-house counsel who's seen as an obstacle to just say “no” to the desired goal that you have to move past. People really value your opinion and see you as part of the solution. How have you managed to do that with working with such diverse groups of people with different talents and specialties?
Erica Han: I know you and I have had a lot of laughs over stories about the creative side of things—how it just totally clashes with legal and how to incorporate it—but I think a lot of people are just scared of attorneys. They don't want to go to their attorneys because they are intimidated by their legal departments. People are intimidated by what they don't understand, and the more you educate them and the more you work with them, the more they want to work with you. There's so much about the business that I had to learn and that I didn't understand, and I truly appreciated when our marketing people or our salespeople would explain certain things about Sephora that helped me to better understand what they needed from me in their contracts and how to negotiate those contracts for them. So I feel like, if you take the time to do that on the other side, they want to work with you. People want to learn, they want to evolve in their role, and I think that's something that creates really good teamwork and team building between other people. Communication is key. As attorneys, we need to be able to be the better communicator. To be able to communicate with those teams and work as the facilitator making the other departments work together—it's a more successful negotiation for our contracts when our supply department is working with our marketing department who's working with legal and finance. And I think that I've worked really hard to facilitate that.
Erica Han: I think that's a great point, which leads me to a question that we have from many of our clients in this current environment. You mentioned that you've been working remotely post-pandemic or since the pandemic started. Has that lack of being in-person in an office changed the communication style or caused new challenges for you?
Mallory Capasso: Yes, it's been a rough couple of years. It was really exciting at first to be able to work remotely, especially as an attorney, we never really worked remotely prior to this. So, the first year was so exciting—it was like, "Wow, so much freedom. I get to work from home. I don't have to commute.” So, that was great. LBP was so much built on its culture and its teamwork in our Miami office—that element, I feel like really does miss not being in-person. You feed off the energy of those teams, and I think that really helped the teams to want to work together and communicate. And being at home, I think we're all sick of Zoom meetings—it’s Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting, and it doesn't have the same energy to it. I definitely think, especially between departments, it's very hard to have multiple people from multiple departments on a call and keep everyone's attention when they're at home—whereas, in a meeting, like in a conference room in-person, everyone has to be actively engaged. So, yes, I think that's changed a lot of things for a lot of companies.
Erica Han: Any tips on how you are overcoming those challenges, or strategies that either you or LBP have tried to employ to overcome that distance?
Mallory Capasso: We've done a lot of activities, like beach cleanup, where we'll plan things outside of company hours. With the Great Resignation and everything, we have so many new people in our company that have never actually met everyone in-person, and I think that there is some distance there that they don't feel like they're totally a part of the company, incorporated into it. So, we've been trying to do some events to bring people into the mix and let them meet people in-person. There's definitely an element that's missing if you don't get to do that. We have mentor programs that we've started in the last year and different things for new people to introduce them into the company. They get assigned a new mentor that walks them through all the steps in onboarding that we usually would when we bring them into the office and introduce them to different departments.
Erica Han: You mentioned mentoring, and I'm curious, in your own career, if you've had mentors that have made a difference to you? Or what your views are on mentorship, particularly in the legal profession?
Mallory Capasso: Having mentors, to me, I've just been so incredibly lucky to have so many strong, but I think importantly, more confident and caring females in my life that really I think have played such a huge role in my career trajectory. My mom being the first one who was the one I think who pushed me into the legal profession, told me to speak my mind and take risks. And then in the last couple of years, Nancy Bernardini was brought on as one of the first women in our C-suite as COO. She was one of the ones who really pushed the mentor program into LBP as well, and I just feel like she's such a powerhouse of grit and grace. I think her secret to success is that she really puts people first, and is someone that I would love to emulate. She isn't afraid to give you constructive criticism, which I think is crucial to growth, as my husband would probably tell you and complain about. But you can just tell when someone is actually invested in your career and your personal development—it makes a world of difference in your experience that you have with them and your experience in your career. And I just think it's so critical to see other successful women, especially.
I've had a lot of great male mentors, but women have such a unique experience in our field and other leadership positions to help them have you navigate your career. I know you and I have spoken about just even the way you come off in a position of leadership or if you're in the boardroom. As a woman, it's unique. Men are automatically, I think, seen as leaders when they're very aggressive and outspoken. And especially as legal counsel, when you're wanting to be a part of the business side and be incorporated into that and have a seat at the table with the business side of things, you have to be really careful that you're not turning people off to it. You have to really work on your way of telling people that they can't do that or that's not good for the company, because people don't like to hear “no,” first of all, but I think it does come off differently. It's just how society is—you have to speak in a different way, in a different tone, and really think about how you're coming off as a female in that position because you want people to be very receptive to it.
Erica Han: Yes, you and I have talked a lot about kind of that feeling of being the only or one of a few women seated at a table, and that dynamic and the unconscious bias that people have in that scenario that takes extra effort and energy to overcome as a woman. So, I agree and have felt that in my own career, as well, that having women who are mentors and seeing women who are successfully navigating that is really helpful. Have you noticed a difference in the dynamic since Nancy has joined the executive team?
Mallory Capasso: 100%. It's pretty incredible. She just has a different way of approaching issues. We have been lucky in our COOs, I will say that. Johnny Sharp, who she replaced, that you know very well, as well, and have worked with, was incredible—what a great man. He was so invested in people, as well. Nancy has come from much bigger companies but she just has the ability to juggle so many balls at once and handles things with grace, but also is not afraid to really lay down the hammer. She's someone that you really look to for her perspective because she's been around and she's so knowledgeable, and she's not afraid to make a decision, which is really refreshing.
Erica Han: That’s great. Do you feel that she is focused on relationships in the way we were talking about before, as valuing communication and relationships?
Mallory Capasso: I feel like she understands that people have to want to work with you to get things done, and I think that is one of the biggest things, even with contract negotiations. She just has such a way of coming around and making people see things in a way that I don't think that they otherwise would. So, I think we get a lot more deals done and things done with her in the C-suite—I really do.
Erica Han: That's great, and I love seeing the dynamic of the two of you working together. We knew each other when you came in as one of the few female voices at Luxury Brand Partners, and it's been nice to see you build on that diversity and expand in terms of your culture there. I'd love to talk about you a little bit more for a minute. Maybe you could tell us one of your biggest career wins, in your mind, and how it came about?
Mallory Capasso: I think my biggest career win would really be my jump from life in a firm to the corporate world—I think that's probably the most important move. At the time, it seemed risky and I wasn't super familiar with the company, but I just thought it was too good to pass up.
Erica Han: On the flip side, what would you say has been one of the biggest obstacles in your professional life?
Mallory Capasso: Probably having to learn the business side from the ground up: Coming into a company, especially with not just one company but having to learn teams from seven different companies that are ever-changing, and then having to learn the supply chain and then the finance aspects of it, and, like I said, negotiating all different types of agreements. So, you can have different backgrounds and practice different areas of law, but you're never going to be able to know what you need to know to go in-house into a company and have to know every aspect of their operations, which has been uniquely challenging. But, again, if you like to be in a chaotic environment and to have to research and learn things on a day-to-day basis, it's the perfect opportunity to do that, because you just never know what you're going to need to know.
Erica Han: It's so great to hear you say that. We just had a guest speaker come to our firm to talk to us about the concept of curiosity, and how, in times of change and chaos, a path to success is to maintain curiosity. And just everything you described sounds like you have that philosophy, whether you've intentionally thought about it that way or not. But I see that as we work together too—your just natural interest. Something happens and you say, "Well, why did this happen? Why do they want that?" You start asking questions rather than immediately looking to, "What's the answer?" You look to, "What are the questions I need to ask?" And it sounds like that's been a great key to your success in being able to have such a diverse skillset and what happens in your career every day, so I think that that’s really cool.
Mallory Capasso: Yes, definitely. I think you hit the nail on the head, too. This is my fifth year now at LBP, which is insane—I feel like it's just flown by. But I don't think I realized that as an attorney, I feel like we're expected to have the answers—people come to pay us for the answers. And as my first year or two, I don't think that I realized that I needed to ask so many questions. I thought they expected me to have the answer. I think the best thing that I've ever learned is to sit and ask questions and figure out every detail you can before even trying to give them an answer, and that's something that the company has learned along with me. We've put a contract policy in place where they have to send me a summary of the deal and the main deal points that they want to get out of it, because I don't think they realize, for this agreement to be successful, or for them to get what they want out of it, I actually have to know what the end goal is to figure out what's important, what's not important, what negotiation tactics are important, or what we really can get rid of and what we need to keep. So, in the last couple of years, it's something that has come out of my experience with LBP is how important that discovery phase is rather than just having the answer.
Erica Han: So many of us are so task-oriented that we want to go immediately to drafting the contract or whatever the next step is. But that piece, those questions are so critical—that's a great reminder. I know we're coming on to time, so I'll close by asking you to tell us what is keeping you either excited or up at night with worry?
Mallory Capasso: What's keeping me up is the metaverse—it really is. Tev Finger, who's our CEO, he's like a modern-day Nostradamus—he’s always in the know somehow. He was quoted in a 2014 article in Modern Salon magazine talking about how Oculus Rift was going to be the next big thing. At the time, it was only for the gaming industry. And he's in this article talking about how he thinks once they really get a grip on how to make it better and more cutting edge that it's going to be used for salons and education, so they feel like they're right there in the academy. They won't have to travel—it'll cut costs of traveling and time in traffic. It'll be this new virtual reality of higher education for salons. And this is 2014—it’s unbelievable that he had that foresight. But he said as soon as it hits, that LBP will become a leader in technology and fuse the beauty industry with the tech industry. So, we are spending a lot of time right now making sure we're ahead of the pack, and along with that comes crazy projects that I never thought I'd be working on.
Erica Han: Your curiosity is going to lend itself well to these projects because there's a lot of unknown and uncertainty, and it seems that you're well prepared to shepherd the company into that world, so that's exciting.
Mallory Capasso: It's definitely exciting and scary where we're going, but a lot to learn for sure. My curiosity will be taken care of.
Erica Han: Perfect—this is great. Hopefully we can have you back when you're fully operating in the metaverse, and you can tell us all about it while the rest of us are still going to real offices.
Mallory Capasso: Yes, we can do this in the metaverse next time, right?
Erica Han: Perfect—that sounds great. I look forward to meeting your avatar. And in the meantime, thank you so much for talking to us today. It's really been a pleasure, as always.
Mallory Capasso: It's been so fun—thanks for having me.
Megan Baca: Erica and Mallory—thank you both so much. As always, thanks to our listeners. For more information about Ropes & Gray's Women's Forum and our women attorneys, please visit ropesgray.com/women. You can also subscribe to this podcast wherever you listen to podcasts, including on Apple, Google and Spotify. Thanks again for listening.
For more information or to contact Mallory Capasso, please visit her LinkedIn profile.