NAME: Lori Fink
TITLE: Chief Legal Officer
COMPANY: Xandr (an AT&T company)
CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Building and leading the legal team, from scratch, for a new ad-tech division with the ambitious goal of changing the way TV advertising is bought and sold. Also carving out a two-decade career as a leading advocate for and pioneer of consumer data protection.
QUOTABLE: “When I think about the scope of my role, privacy is a key component, especially the use of data. We have to build out to the right infrastructure to make sure we use data in a responsible manner.”
While she’s been an AT&T corporate lawyer for the last 22 years, these days Lori Fink is working on the company’s advanced advertising and analytics “startup” Xandr, a gig that suits her just fine.
“It’s not Lori’s superhuman strength to deal with any challenge or her ability to soar through any negotiation, but her unmatched compassion and dedication to our customers and employees at Xandr — that’s what makes her a Wonder Woman,” Xandr CEO Brian Lesser said of his chief legal officer.
Announced last fall, Xandr is the combination of AT&T’s advanced TV division, AT&T AdWorks, along with its data and analytics unit and its recently acquired ad tech company, AppNexus.
AT&T has grand ambitions for Xandr, which was named after telecom pioneer Alexander Graham Bell and headquarters most of its almost 1,500 employees in New York’s Rockefeller Center. Fresh off its victory over the Justice Department to take over Time Warner Inc., AT&T wants to launch an advanced-advertising marketplace for all media companies, one in which advertisers can bring their own data, complement it with AT&T data and run measurement and attribution models based on their own standards.
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Diverse, Challenging Role
“I get to do something really different and challenging,” said Fink, who leads Xandr’s 21-member legal team. “I like having that ability — to try out different things, work in different areas, without having to change companies.”
A Western Illinois University and Washburn University School of Law graduate, Fink’s early career included stops at the Kansas Corporation Commission, where she learned about regulation primarily through the lens of the oil and gas industries. But there was some telecom-related work involved, she said.
That ultimately led Fink to Southwestern Bell in Topeka, Kan., where she was introduced to issues including data usage and privacy. She joined AT&T in 1996 and continued to expand her expertise in the area of Big Data, culminating in Lesser’s decision to have Fink lead his legal staff.
“My job just kind of evolved over time,” Fink said. “I’ve had a lot of different jobs at AT&T in a lot of different locations. At one point, I even took on the role of chief privacy officer, and that’s what I was doing when I moved over to Brian’s team.”
Of course, data is at the heart of Xandr’s business, and reconciling its usage with rules that protect the consumer — as well as AT&T — is the core part of Fink’s broadly defined role.
“If you’re going to use data, it needs to be used in a responsible and ethical manner,” Fink said, defining her mission. “Communication with customers needs to be transparent and easy to understand. This means that customers know how you are going to use their data and the choices they have.”
Her job goes beyond Big Data. Early on, she needed to get into a number of other issues for AT&T’s startup ad-tech unit. For one, there are tons of integration issues — not only is AT&T still digesting its $85 billion purchase of Time Warner Inc. (rechristened as WarnerMedia), Xandr itself is still integrating AT&T’s 2016 deal for ad tech company AppNexus, valued at $1.6 billion to $2 billion.
“We’re really focused on the integration work right now — how we organize and align it so we support the business,” Fink said.
There was also the Xandr brand launch, which was completed over the fall. “I think we had to file for the brand across 27 jurisdictions,” Fink said. “Now, we’re trying to manage those brand assets and create the infrastructure to do that.”
So what’s been most exciting during her brief run inside AT&T’s little startup within a major telecom corporation? She said it’s been putting together the Xandr legal team.
“My favorite part of this job is building something new,” Fink said. “It’s any manager’s dream to be told, ‘Look, we need to build a team, and you get to choose who’s on it.’ It’s just like when Brian built his senior leadership team. I’m just following suit on the legal side.”
Also, being part of Xandr’s leadership team is a thrill in and of itself, she said.
“It’s one thing to provide legal guidance,” she said. “But [Xandr area VP and communications lead] Rob [Wheeler] and others will often just talk to me about what they think might be a good idea. Just being a business partner at the table is a key priority.”
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Fink’s gig: “Trying to keep up with a business that is so fast-moving,” she said.
“I always hate to hear [that] we can’t roll something out, or publish some objective, because legal doesn’t have time. You never want to hear that.”
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