Ross Guilder is a director on the account management team here at Ontra and is the founding member of OntRainbow, Ontra’s LGBTQIA+ affinity group. After practicing corporate law for a few years in the M&A group at White & Case in NYC, Ross was eager to find an opportunity to join an entrepreneurial enterprise and leverage his legal skills in the tech space. As luck would have it, he found his way to Ontra in February 2021.
In honor of Pride Month, Ross talked to us about his work with OntRainbow, his journey to Ontra, and much more.
Ross, what made you seek out a position at Ontra after your career in Big Law?
After undergrad at the University of Pennsylvania, I got my J.D. at NYU School of Law and was interested in pursuing a career in antitrust (or politics). However, after summering at the law firm and some convincing from my older brother, I switched over to the dark side (corporate law) and joined the M&A group.
The group at my former firm has some amazing folks, but an intense lifestyle. I received fantastic training from the mid-level and senior associates and partners and made some lifelong friendships, but the work-life balance did not seem sustainable in the long term. The pandemic, in large part, realigned my focus. I realized I wanted to enjoy more time with my friends and family and to focus on self-improvement and my hobbies, and I just couldn’t do that at the firm.
After some serious soul-searching, I began looking for a new career path that incorporated my legal education and allowed me to pursue my interest in technology. Right around when I made that decision, Ontra contacted me on LinkedIn. They set up an interview, and I had the job in around 10 days. It was remarkably fast and just felt right.
What’s your day-to-day work like? What are you most proud of since you’ve been here?
I’m a director on the account management team. My typical day involves managing relationships with our customers and lawyers. Acting as a trusted advisor to our customers, I try to proactively (and often reactively) find solutions to novel issues that arise. Over the last few days, I’ve onboarded two new customers — a private equity firm and an investment bank — so that Ontra can start running their NDA programs, and I’m working with an investment bank to prepare a case study highlighting the impacts of our partnership. I love that the job varies day-to-day.
The most rewarding part of being at Ontra has been learning more about the business side of the financial services industry and collaborating across departments with non-lawyers. A lot of the work I do here is focused on the investment banking vertical, so I’ve been able to learn the ins and outs of that industry, how to efficiently manage their processes, and hopefully give junior bankers back their time to focus on other workstreams. Learning from my manager, John Gionis, has also been an amazing experience. He knows a crazy amount about investment banking, and I’ve been lucky to learn from the best.
I’ve also found it tremendously rewarding to help the machine learning team. I’m very interested in the future of our product and streamlining negotiations and collaborating with their team has been a blast.
You helped to launch the OntRainbow affinity group for LGBTQIA+ employees. What motivated you to start the group, and what do you hope to accomplish with it?
Founding the OntRainbow group has been incredibly rewarding. I’ll bring everything back to when I was first interviewed here. In researching the company, I learned that Ontra’s legal partnership network has a three times greater LGBTQIA+ representation than the average U.S. law firm. However, on a holiday Zoom call, I saw that I was the only one on my team with a same-sex partner. So, I reached out to our People team and expressed interest in launching a group to see if there was anyone else like me at the company.
After coming out, I thought it was important to have that sense of community. It was also a great way to make friends at a time when we’re all working remotely, along with building up visibility at the company. It was a slow start (there was only one other person interested at first), but we’ve grown bigger and bigger and now OntRainbow is an integral part of the organization.
What I was searching for was other like-minded people and developing a group that could talk about our experiences — at work or in our personal lives — in a “it’s nice to know we’re not alone” type of way. I also think visibility is vital.
With that in mind, we have three different efforts with our group. There’s one entirely focused on Pride Month. We have a lot of different events going on; Aubrey Minix, another member of our group, is integral in planning those events, including our LGBTQIA+ history bingo event.
Another effort is focused on educating people at Ontra about LGBTQIA+ issues. I worked with the People team to develop companywide messages about gay rights and how they’ve evolved over time by exploring different Supreme Court cases. For example, on our internal Slack channel, we recently highlighted Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down a Texas law making it a crime for two persons of the same sex to engage in certain intimate sexual conduct as unconstitutional. And that was decided in 2003!
Finally, we have a branch that’s focused on outreach to new members of our community. We’ve worked with the People team to ensure that all new employees know that our group exists. We think visibility is important and want to ensure that LGBTQIA+ employees know they are not alone.
What does Gay Pride Month mean to you?
I think it means not just being comfortable with who I am, but also being proud to be me. Speaking from personal experience, it can take a long time to get there. I wasn’t out publicly until recently. When I joined Ontra, I made it a point to have it out there that, “Hey, this is me. This is who I am.” Pride is also about visibility, and I’m glad to have this platform to talk about my experiences.
Openly speaking about this part of myself with my colleagues has changed my life, and it’s amazing to work at a company that is so supportive — one that sends gifts addressed to you and a same-sex partner, for example, or that gives me a platform to speak about LGBTQIA+ issues on all-hands calls.
Finally, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I moved to Austin, Texas last year and I’ve loved exploring all the city has to offer. The ultimate thing to do here is simply to be outside. Being on the lake or swimming in Barton Springs is a must in the triple-digit summer heat, but I also love hanging out at Zilker, hiking, playing pickleball, golfing … there’s just so much to do. In New York, I lived in a cramped apartment with a kitchen from the ‘60s. It’s nice to have opportunities to get outside and be active!
Austin also has unbelievable breweries and distilleries. Here, you can go on a hike out west — about an hour into the hill country — and hit a bunch of breweries on the way back. But I think my favorite thing to do here is simply to walk along the river and enjoy the fresh air.