Gary Wengrofsky currently serves as senior director of intellectual property for the telecommunications/mass media giant Charter Communications. But he also knows a thing or two about being a shape-shifter.
“As a professional, you should realize that when you’re new to something, you’ve got to be a fly on a wall,” Wengrofsky says. “You’ve got to take it all in so that you can then apply your gained knowledge to the next issue that comes up, and the issue after that, and the issue after that. At some point, you stop being a fly and you start being a songbird. And with the issue after that, maybe you’re a hawk.”
Obviously, Wengrofsky hasn’t physically transmogrified into different winged animals. But the metaphor remains apt nonetheless, demonstrating his ability to listen as well as act, to be both a learner and teacher: all of which has contributed to a unique career that spans thirty years. As Wengrofsky puts it, his job at Charter Communications and his overall trajectory have been “fantastic for someone who has severe ADHD, like I do.”
Throughout Wengrofsky’s professional life, there’s been a consistent restlessness that, when shaped by a certain kind of mentor, leads to upward mobility. For instance, after graduating from North Carolina State University in 1989 with a BA in political science, he worked as a temp for IBM. Once he had gotten his educational coordination duties down to a science, he sought out more work to do (“It helps to get bored,” he says).
He started relaying student requests to instructors, then sent new potential syllabi to the leadership at the company. His boss was pleased. While Wengrofsky concedes that he wasn’t exactly staying in his lane, he also recognizes the power of proactivity and creating your own opportunities.
“If someone asks, ‘Can you help with this?’, the answer is always ‘Yes,’” he says. “And if they don’t ask, then you say, ‘Can I help with that?’ If you prove that you can add value—doing your job and then some—then that will eventually earn you a promotion. Your bosses are not going to help you grow unless you’ve shown them that you’re growing yourself.”
“If you prove that you can add value—doing your job and then some—then that will eventually earn you a promotion. Your bosses are not going to help you grow unless you’ve shown them that you’re growing yourself.”
Wengrofsky’s introduction to the cable industry came in 1992, when he joined American Television and Communications Corporation, the forerunner to Time Warner Cable (TWC). There, he joined forces with the mentor who would change his career forever: regulatory group head Gary Matz. Although Wengrofsky was a franchising and regulatory paralegal under Matz, he soon took on responsibilities that went well beyond the scope of his job title.
“Gary’s retired now, but he was and is a very well-respected and well-regarded lawyer in government affairs within the cable industry,” Wengrofsky says. “He saw that I was interested in government affairs as well, so eventually he let me start doing a lot of the work myself: ‘Go ahead and draft this franchise agreement that’s going to allow us to provide service in this town. Negotiate the deal with that village attorney. Fly down to Texas and talk to that mayor about our upcoming acquisition of their system.’ He was the first person I met who advocated for a career ladder for me as a paralegal. He provided me with opportunities to grow when there weren’t any.”
Matz’s tutelage, combined with Wengrofsky’s flexibility and persistence, led to a promotion every three years or so, with Wengrofsky eventually rising to the role of director of trademarks at TWC. Then, in 2016, everything changed when TWC and its competitor Bright House Networks were acquired by Charter Communications—at that point, a relatively midsized cable company based in St. Louis. When describing the transaction, Wengrofsky invokes another animal metaphor.
“The fish swallowed the whale,” he says.
“I’m at the point where I will listen to and speak with anyone about anything . . . I’m always going to be a fly on a wall for something. I can’t be a hawk on everything.”
Prior to the acquisition, Charter Communications didn’t seem to have many large trademark issues, which quickly changed once they were in business with the more highly visible TWC. These issues intensified with the immediate rollout of a new brand, Spectrum. Fortunately, Wengrofsky had become a trademark expert not just through his primary role at TWC, but also through his involvement with the International Trademark Association (INTA), a nonprofit advocacy association for trademarks and intellectual property designed to foster consumer trust, economic growth, and innovation.
Wengrofsky credits corporate parent Time Warner Inc.’s chief trademark counsel at the time, Erin Hennessy, as well as its then-director of intellectual property Daretia Austin, for connecting him with INTA, an organization he describes as essential for anyone who wants their company to have a successful, powerful, and robust trademarks program. During nonpandemic times, the group has many annual conferences, during which Wengrofsky confers with Charter’s domestic and foreign counsel to discuss any topical issues. He also loves talking to contemporaries from other organizations and learning through osmosis.
“My first INTA conference was in Chicago, and I was just happy to be there and get to hear what all of these other trademark nerds like myself were doing,” he says. “Now I’m at the point where I will listen to and speak with anyone about anything . . . I’m always going to be a fly on a wall for something. I can’t be a hawk on everything.”
The education goes both ways. Wengrofsky is currently helping develop a mentoring program through INTA, and has spoken at several conferences. Due to COVID-19, two of 2020’s larger conferences were folded into one virtual event, where he participated on a panel presentation on leadership.
“Some of what I talk about is how not only does having a mentor aid you in your career, but how being a mentor will aid you in your career, particularly as a nonattorney,” Wengrofsky says. “Showing your level of expertise and leadership—and that you’re interested in helping others—goes a long way. I’m in it just as much as them.”
Thompson Coburn LLP:
“Gary Wengrofsky has a unique combination of IP experience, deep knowledge of the telecommunications industry, and real business acumen. We’re proud to work with Gary and celebrate this recognition of his achievements.”
—Tom Polcyn, Partner
Congratulations to Gary Wengrofsky on his recognition by Modern Counsel. Gary has a wealth of experience in everything from trademark clearance to online brand protection and Corsearch is proud to support this dedicated IP professional.