When Kevin Connor describes what made him want to become a lawyer, he doesn’t talk about money, ambition or even the glory of winning cases. Instead, the senior vice president, general counsel and secretary of AMC Entertainment Inc. reflects on the inspiration he gets from his two role models—the stalwart and honorable Atticus Finch from Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Catholic saint and noted challenger of King Henry VIII, Thomas More. Connor recalls a quote related to Thomas More that has resonated with him throughout his career: “Help me that I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul.”
After graduating from Vanderbilt University as an English and philosophy major, Connor attended the University of Kansas School of Law. He says he considered his stint at law school to be a continuation of his liberal arts education. After graduating, he earned an LLM in taxation from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He stayed in Kansas City and brought his varied experience to the law firm world first, working at Seigfreid, Bingham, Levy, Selzer & Gee doing corporate, tax and real estate law for 15 years before joining AMC in 2002.
Despite the fact that he claims achieving a healthy work-life balance to be his biggest challenge, outside of his work at AMC, Connor serves on the board of directors for the Foundation for Inclusive Religious Education, which gives grants to parish schools to help them accommodate children with special needs; as well as the Diocesan Community Foundation and Kansas City’s Brookside Soccer Club. When asked about his hobbies, the first thing he says is that he’s devoted to his family, then immediately rattles off an impressive list of the sports he plays. He also coaches both hockey and soccer, which he played at Vanderbilt.
At work, AMC’s 200 million guests sometimes mean that Connor and the rest of the legal department spend a good amount of time defending litigation, which Connor calls “unfortunate.” But working for the second-largest movie theater chain in the U.S. is not without its perks. Connor and his colleagues get to attend a good number of pre-screenings of new films. But Connor has his sights set a little higher. “I’ve never been invited to the Academy Awards,” he says. “I’d like to go.”
Q: How did you start working for AMC?
A: I loved private practice; it was very entrepreneurial. I did corporate, tax and real estate work. But when the opportunity presented itself at AMC, I moved to do all those things on a larger scale. That’s what drew me to in-house practice.
Q: What do you like about in-house work vs. private practice?
A: Starting with private practice, I liked how entrepreneurial it was. I liked accomplishing a task with a client and building a book of business.
In-house, I like having fewer clients and a strategic goal, helping a company achieve its success—helping one company achieve success.
Q: Do you prefer working in-house to law firm work?
A: If I had a career change, I’d probably go back to private practice because I love that as well. I did not have my sights set on corporate—being in-house counsel—and I would love to go back to private practice.
Q: What’s important to know about AMC?
A: I’d say that AMC is a fun business. Whenever your customers are having as much fun as ours are, it’s hard not to enjoy that excitement. It’s hard not to share the excitement with them.
Q: Tell me about the work your legal team does.
A: There are five lawyers. We do lots of M&A work, lots of joint venture work and, unfortunately, defend lots of litigation, both large and small. We do board advisory work as well. And contracts.
Q: Are there any specialized skills you’ve developed by working at an entertainment company, as opposed to another kind of company?
A: We’re in entertainment, but we’re also a retailer. So we have lots of leases, and lots of specialized contracts. We have license agreements with Hollywood for the content. We have lots of exhibitor acquisition-type specialization—buying other circuits. Other than that, it’s a pretty standard fare for a retailer. We have 200 million guests [annually].
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: The most rewarding part is being candid and honest with business opponents and solving problems and amicably resolving conflict. You buy, you sell, you make money, you succeed. But everybody’s a part of that. Our special calling, as lawyers, is resolution of disputes.
Only half the time do you find someone on the other side of a dispute or of a problem that reasonably approaches it and genuinely wants fair resolution. I kind of consider myself to always be looking for that. But when I find someone else that wants fair resolution, it’s very fulfilling to put a problem behind the parties and productively move forward.
Q: What has been your biggest challenge?
A: My work-life balance. They say the law can be a jealous mistress, and that’s true in-house as well. Actually, I would say it’s true in-house even more so. You can always lay work off on outside counsel, but the product is your own and you want it to be nearly perfect. So you spend a lot of time getting it right.
With the Internet, it’s really easy to work around the clock. I take the bus to work, which is rare in Kansas City. I get a lot of work done on the bus on the wireless computer. I get a lot of my work done traveling with family on a car ride. I get work done at soccer games if I’m a spectator. That’s the part of it that is so pervasive. It’s efficient, but it’s pervasive.
Q: If you weren’t working in law, what would your dream job be?
A: I’d want to own a lot of small entrepreneurial businesses with trusted colleagues running each of them and owning a part. I have a friend that does that—some manufacturing, some services, some retail and some consumer-type businesses.
I’d like to buy a business about once a year and find the right person to run it, get it going, improve it, optimize it with technology, management and streamlined administration, and then let it go. Let that person run it, make money with it and own part of it.
Q: What’s the best movie you’ve seen recently?
A: I thought “The Help” was great.