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2020 In-House Counsel Awards: Charles Etherington

Private company with more than $500 million in annual revenue

Senior Vice President and General Counsel, American Century Investments

Charles EtheringtonNote: This story has been updated to correct an error regarding the parties in the ERISA suit.

During the past 26 years, Chuck Etherington has had a front-row seat to the growth of American Century Investments through his work in the company’s legal department.

When he started there in 1994, the investment management firm headquartered in Kansas City had just 10 funds, one class of shares and $25 billion in assets under management. Its investments were sold directly to shareholders, mostly through 800 numbers.

Today, the company has grown into a global institutional asset manager, with more than 125 funds, eight classes of shares and almost $200 billion in assets under management.

When considering the work he’s done for the firm during his tenure, Etherington said he’s most proud of that growth.

“Our ability and willingness to change with the industry is why we’re still around, and the legal team’s ability to help facilitate the company in making the transition, that’s got to be No. 1,” he said.

In the 1980s, when Etherington got his start, he wanted to become an entrepreneur, he said. But after he graduated from Wichita State University with a business degree in the early 1980s, interest rates were high and banks were not lending freely.

Instead, he decided on law school, earning his law degree in 1985 from the University of Kansas. From there, he joined Smith, Gill, Fisher & Butts in Kansas City, which later merged into Bryan Cave. He worked as an associate and partner in the firm’s corporate and securities law practice.

After nine years with the firm, he left in 1994 to join American Century Investments as a member of the company’s securities practice group. He was promoted to head of the practice group in 1998 and was named general counsel in 2007.

In addition to overseeing the company’s legal department, Etherington also provides oversight for the company’s compliance and internal audit units and is a member of the company’s management committee.

What he enjoys most about working in the area of securities law is the role it plays in society, he said.

“It’s important in the functioning of our economy, it’s how businesses raise capital and it’s how investors make money,” he said “It’s at the very heart of our system, and as a lawyer in the very middle of this you’re getting to help clients solve problems.”

In addition to his pride in seeing the company grow through the years, he said he’s proud of the team he’s helped to build — and the company’s success in defending suits filed against it.

One such success came in 2019, when the company prevailed in a rare Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, trial. The company successfully defended itself in a suit brought by a plaintiff’s firm on behalf of two former employees who alleged the company was disloyal to them in selecting proprietary mutual funds for their 401(k) plan.

Outside of his practice, Etherington recently finished a four-year term as chair of Gilda’s Club Kansas City, a charitable organization that provides social, educational and emotional support for people who have been affected by cancer.

He also enjoys playing golf and flying his airplane, a V35B Bonanza. He said he’s been flying since law school — a hobby he jokingly called an “affliction” he gained from his father, an aeronautical engineer.