Around the house: Former Star Wars lawyer named Surf Air legal chief, Empower AI adds GC in newly created role

This week’s roundup of top in-house moves also includes appointments at VEON, MapLight Therapeutics, Dianthus Therapeutics and Clark Hill

Ex-Lucasfilm GC David Anderman will lead Surf Air’s legal team John Gomez /

Ex-Lucasfilm, SpaceX GC lands at Surf Air

US electric aviation company Surf Air Mobility has hired former Lucasfilm and SpaceX general counsel David Anderman as its new chief legal officer, ahead of the company preparing to go public.

Anderman left SpaceX in 2020 to co-found Stellar Ventures, a venture capital fund set up to invest exclusively in early-stage space companies. He is also currently president of Proxima Centuri, a consultancy that advises tech start-ups and VC funds on strategy and fundraising, including for Surf Air.

Sudhin Shahani, co-founder and CEO of Surf Air, said: “Surf Air attracts people passionate about the future of flight, and we couldn’t be more excited to have someone as forward thinking as David join us as chief legal officer. David is a brilliant operational and legal mind, and his experience rounds out an executive team I feel confident will help us move even faster toward electrifying flight and connecting the world’s communities, region by region.”

Prior to joining SpaceX, Anderman spent three years as GC and chief business officer at virtual reality company Jaunt VR, which was later acquired by Verizon. He previously spent 16 years at Lucasfilm, working his way up from junior lawyer to becoming GC and chief operating officer, where he helped negotiate its acquisition by The Walt Disney Company. He started his legal career in private practice as an IP litigator at Brown & Bain, before moving to Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe for two years prior to his Lucasfilm career.

Surf Air last year said it was preparing for an initial public offering after a previously announced $1.42bn merger with special purpose acquisition company Tuscan Holdings was cancelled.

Empower AI names former Hewlett-Packard lawyer as new GC

US government-focused artificial intelligence tech provider Empower AI has named Jim Rittinger as its new general counsel, a newly created role at the company.

Rittinger brings with him almost three decades of legal experience, most recently as chief legal officer at US public sector-focused IT company Micro Focus Government Solutions (MFGS), where he oversaw its legal, contracts, security, corporate development, human resources and compliance departments. At Empower AI – previously known as NCI Information Systems until a year ago – he will oversee all legal and corporate governance matters.

Jeff Bohling, CEO of Empower AI, said: “The intersection of technology and government contracting has become increasingly complex, and Jim will play a critical role for Empower AI. Jim’s leadership and extensive knowledge of the industry will help us deliver for our customers and our employees on mission-critical programmes.”

Rittinger spent just under six years at MFGS, having joined from Hewlett-Packard, where he spent roughly three years as associate GC. Prior to that he was GC at Perot Systems Government Services. He also worked in private practice at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.

Rittinger said: “I am excited for the opportunity to join the Empower AI team, at a time where technology is playing such an important, transformative role in our government and their many missions.”

VEON elevates acting GC to permanent role

Amsterdam-based telecommunications company VEON has appointed Omiyinka Doris as its permanent group general counsel, having served as acting GC since October last year.

Doris first joined VEON in 2015 as deputy GC from Brazilian mining company Vale, where she was chief counsel for the company’s African operations. As deputy GC at VEON, she was responsible for securities regulation and disclosure, finance and governance. In her role as group GC, she will oversee all of the group’s legal matters and continue to serve as a member of the company’s executive committee.

Kaan Terzioglu, VEON’s group CEO, said the move to make the appointment permanent was well deserved: “[Doris] has brought in a tremendous wealth of experience and insight to our management team in her role as VEON’s acting general counsel, and we are delighted to continue working with her in the permanent position.”

Doris spent three years at Vale, where she was based in Mozambique. That was her first in-house role, having previously worked in private practice at Norton Rose Fulbright, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Davis Polk & Wardwell.

She said: “My career at VEON over the past eight years has brought challenges, growth opportunities and many rewards, and I look forward to continuing to serve VEON at the helm of our impressive legal team."

Doris replaced former group GC Victor Biryukov, who had only been in the role since the start of last year when previous GC Scott Dresser stepped down after almost seven years at the company. Biryukov is now a project manager at VEON, according to his LinkedIn profile.

MapLight names 25-year legal veteran as GC

US brain disorder treatment start-up MapLight Therapeutics has hired Kris Hanson as its new general counsel.

Hanson brings 25 years of experience advising public and private companies on legal and compliance matters, most recently as GC of drug developer PhaseBio Pharmaceuticals.

Christopher Kroeger, MapLight’s CEO and founder, said: “[Hanson’s] significant experience and expertise in building and leading in-house legal and compliance teams will be critical to us as we continue to build our company and progress our clinical and pre-clinical pipeline.”

Hanson was at PhaseBio for just under four years, having joined from Nalproprion Pharmaceuticals, where he was vice president of legal and compliance and head of human resources after it acquired his previous firm – Orexigen Therapeutics – where he was assistant GC. He has also held in-house roles at video telematics-maker Lytx (as VP for legal affairs), AT&T-owned wireless internet company Cricket Wireless (as VP for legal) and tech company SAIC (as corporate counsel). He previously worked in private practice at Morrison & Foerster and legacy firm Brobeck Phleger & Harrison. 

Hanson said: “My career has focused on advising emerging growth companies like MapLight on critical legal and compliance matters, including capital markets and strategic transactions, commercial contracting and licensing, IP portfolio management and corporate governance. I look forward to bringing that expertise to MapLight as we build out our legal department and continue to grow as a company.”

Dianthus names new GC ahead of planned IPO

US clinical-stage biotech company Dianthus Therapeutics has appointed Adam Veness as its new general counsel, ahead of a potential initial public offering later this year.

Veness joins from Cyteir Therapeutics, where he was GC and company secretary. He brings with him experience in all aspects of legal and compliance, including capital markets and securities regulator reporting requirements, corporate governance, contracts, intellectual property and employment matters.

Marino Garcia, president and CEO of Dianthus Therapeutics, said: “Adam’s proven track record in helping develop and implement corporate strategy and successfully leading the legal and compliance functions in public life science companies will be invaluable as we expect to transition to a public company in the third quarter of this year.”

Veness spent just over a year at Cytier, having joined from Acceleron Pharma, where he spent more than seven years, roughly three of them as GC prior to its acquisition by Merck in November 2021. Prior to joining Acceleron, Veness was a corporate associate at Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo, and Kenney & Sams before that.

He said: “I have been impressed with the quality of the science and the calibre of the Dianthus management team, board of directors and investors. The team’s dedication to improving the lives of people with severe autoimmune disease has been inspiring, and their impressive achievements over a short period of time exemplify their sense of urgency in bringing potentially best-in-class therapies to these patients with high unmet need.”

Clark Hill names Dallas appeals lawyer as firm’s first CLO

US law firm Clark Hill has named Dallas-based member Jadd Masso as its chief legal officer, a newly created position at the Detroit headquartered firm.

Masso has been with Clark Hill since his previous firm – Strasburger & Price – merged with Clark Hill in 2018. Clark Hill said the creation of the CLO role was “necessitated by growth in recent years”. Masso will oversee the office of general counsel and risk management matters, including conflicts clearance and new clients. He will also continue serving clients in his appellate practice.

John Hensien, Clark Hill’s CEO, said: “Given our growth over the past few years, and the evolution of the industry generally, we have established this role to bring an additional level of oversight and leadership to our general counsel office and risk management functions. Jadd will be instrumental in our adoption of best practices and continued compliance with the highest standards of professional ethics.”

Masso had been with Strasburger & Price for almost 15 years, having joined as an associate in 2003 and becoming a partner in 2011. 

He said: “It’s a great opportunity to be the first CLO to establish this role’s significance and oversee many critical firm functions.”

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