© SEPTEMBER 2017, ASSOCIATION OF CORPORATE COUNSEL 5
At a Halloween party, Elvis turned to the chicken and provided some much-needed career
advice. He said, “Look, the biggest risk is to take a job you already know you don’t want. You
get nine career lives, and if you move toward something you want to do, you will be that
much closer to it.” The chicken considered it and knew he was right. After the party, Kate
Karas took off her chicken costume and decided that she would stop pursuing an opportunity from a big bank and go work for a startup instead.
As Elvis predicted it might, the company wound down six months after she joined,
but the job moved her in the right direction. After spending over three years at Bingham
McCutchen LLP in San Francisco, where she specialized in litigation and counseling financial services companies on broker-dealer and securities matters, she joined ProFounder
Financial Inc. as general counsel. “That job started me on my current path. I got more in
touch with who I am and who I wanted to be,” Karas says. She thinks more women need to
take that uncertain leap and not worry about where they might land.
Karas used one more “career life” before she landed at her current position at
LendingClub Corp. The company caught her eye because she was a user. “I was pretty obsessed with it,” she admits, adding that she invests in B-corporations: for-profit companies that
meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance and transparency. The idea
behind LendingClub is that an online credit marketplace is a better way to create more access
to credit through connecting borrowers and investors. If a law school friend has a mountain
of credit card debt, that friend can refinance it very quickly through LendingClub, and often
with better terms than from a traditional bank. As Karas was browsing her retail account, she
noticed that LendingClub was looking for someone to work on a group of private funds.
She was well matched for the position and was very excited when she was got it. “And of
course I’m not doing anything that I was hired to do,” she says with a laugh. Karas now leads the
legal team that supports all of the company’s investor-facing projects and initiatives. LendingClub
essentially has two sides — one that serves borrowers and one that serves investors.
The company is at an intermediate stage right now. It’s healthy and looking to return
to growth. Karas’ day-to-day involves a lot of meetings that will determine the course of
the company. “I think LendingClub is very much in its infancy of what it’s going to be,” she
The positivity at the company is evident. It is a driven, values-oriented, and innovative place
that Karas likens to summer camp. At one point during the interview, she paused to accept a
mug of tea and a cookie. Work culture, she says, is extremely important to her. She leads through
example and always tries to show positive intent. Lawyers, she notes, can sometimes act like in-
telligence is a rare breed and they’re one of the lucky ones: “I think you need to avoid that feeling
at all costs. It’s a statistical certainty that the talent you work with will be accretive to your own.”
Her time at the law firm taught her that great lawyers don’t always make the best man-
agers. Karas’ management philosophy is to concentrate on the three pillars of human happi-
ness: autonomy, competence, and connection to others. She wants her team members to go
out and find answers without worrying about someone looking over their shoulder.
Her experiences at startups have taught her that it’s important to assert your value.
Women need to be more vocal about their value and advocate for the same pay as their male
counterparts. “It can be a little hard to see a women acting in that way, but then again, a
couple of years ago, a San Francisco woman stabbed someone with her high-heeled shoe,”
she says, noting that people who work for startups are natural fighters.
At any rate, she has no qualms about her decision to listen to the wisdom of Elvis and
play chicken with her career. WIT
VICE PRESIDENT AND
WOMEN IN TECHNOLOGY kate karas