Through the Alumni Spotlight series, you can meet a few of our distinguished alumni to learn how they leveraged their time at the firm to advance their careers and what advice they would give to those looking to have similar success.
Jason Gao '08 (Capital Markets, 2008-2013, New York City) joined the firm's Capital Markets practice after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. After he completed his tenure at Shearman & Sterling, he went on to work at O'Melveny & Myers LLP and Square before joining Impossible Foods in 2018.
What attracted you to Shearman & Sterling and what interested you in Capital Markets?
The reputation and global reach of Shearman drew me in. I liked knowing the firm had such a pedigree of history, traditions and culture, and I got to be a part of that when I joined in 2008, the year the firm celebrated its 135th anniversary. My interest in Capital Markets was driven by my curiosity for understanding how companies work, what makes them great and how people work together to make that happen. I remember working with companies that needed funding during the Great Recession to keep their operations afloat. I found the feeling of helping them particularly rewarding.
What is your favorite memory or story from your time at Shearman & Sterling?
I have so many. I was once on a pricing call for a bond deal where the banker referenced four investment grade deals and I smiled because I was involved in three of them. It was exciting to see our firm and our team at the center of it all. I also have many of the firm's people in my memory. Many days we worked past midnight and after most of the partners had gone home, it was just us associates wandering the hallways. My most cherished memories are of people coming into my office saying, "hey, do you want me to read through this prospectus one last time before you hit send on the printer?" We valued each other's opinions and were generous with our time when it came to helping and supporting each other.
I keep in touch with several associates from my class, especially those from Capital Markets. We actually had a mini reunion recently. I like to think those from my year formed a particularly close-knit group.
What skills or capabilities did you gain from your time at the firm that prepared you for future roles?
Perseverance. Attention to detail. The thoughtfulness needed to come to a conclusion or an answer. I learned from some of the greatest lawyers at Shearman about the tremendous amount of work it takes to form and provide a solid legal opinion. I remember a partner reviewing an opinion and saying, "for me to sign this with this one sentence, here are the ten things we need to have. For the second opinion, here are the twelve things we need to have." It was eye-opening to understand the amount of responsibility a firm has in forming an opinion, the amount of detail involved and the in-depth review process needed.
After leaving Shearman & Sterling, you went to O'Melveny and Myers for a few years before joining Square. How did you end up at Impossible Foods and how was the shift from financial technology to food and beverage?
I joined Impossible Foods because the former General Counsel of Square joined the company and invited me and my team to join him.
There is a difference in industry but Impossible Foods is a food-tech company. We have hundreds of patents for our technology so there are a lot of similarities, especially in terms of regulation and being on the forefront of a new space. These things are very analogous to my prior work in FinTech.
Tell us about your current job. What do you enjoy most about your work?
One of the reasons I joined Impossible Foods is the correlating line between what we do and the impact it has on the environment and people's health and well-being. We are encouraging people to think about a fundamental thing, like eating food, in a different way. I have also enjoyed seeing Impossible Foods grow. The team I'm a part of is just fabulous. We have a traditional legal function, and I also lead the Risk and Safety, Regulatory and Food Quality Assurance teams. It's meaningful for me to see these teams come together to bring the company's goals to life. So, to answer your question, I enjoy the mission of the company and the team we've built together.
What advice would you give to someone looking to have a similar career path?
There are two things. First, take pride and responsibility in your work and your answers. Having a reputation for being trustworthy will go very far. No one's perfect but making sure people feel confident in the work you do is a real calling card. Second, always take additional opportunities and responsibilities when they come up. It's not always easy and it often leads to working late hours but saying "yes" is a self-perpetuating and self-propelling vehicle. The more you do it then the more work people will give you and the more you will learn. In time, you will be in the right position at the right time with the right skillset needed for the next opportunity that will come your way.