Most college commencement ceremonies are memorable, but Victor Wright’s was one of a kind. He received his diploma from then President George H.W. Bush. Wright was the last to graduate, by squadron and alphabetically. As he saluted the president and waved to his family, the crowd in the stadium erupted. A loud announcement followed: “Class of 1991. Dismissed!” Six F-16 Fighting Falcon Thunderbirds flew overhead as Wright and his classmates tossed their white service caps in the air. With that, it was official—Wright was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force.
Today, Wright is director of global labor and employment law at KBR, a large global provider of differentiated professional services and technologies to governments and companies across the world, with annual revenues topping $5.6 billion. The former subsidiary of Halliburton often works with the United States military, the Department of Defense, and various state and federal agencies.
Wright’s background makes him a natural fit for the role; he’s spent twenty years working alongside top executives and is known for his ability to provide strong leadership and balance sound legal advice with effective business strategies.
A long-standing family tradition of military service first took Wright to the Air Force Academy. After seeing the 1986 movie Top Gun, he originally wanted to become a fighter pilot.
But after two years of training, Wright took a class in his junior year called Military Law for Commanders. He listened to lawyers from the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) talk about their trial experiences, their work as advocates for military members, their rotating assignments, and their exposure to various practice areas. The instructors described how they combined the law with their poise, influence, and leadership to drive positive outcomes. “I saw the significant impact a JAG lawyer could have, and I knew right then that I wanted to become one,” Wright says.
After breaking the news to an intimidating commanding officer, Wright changed paths, earned his degree in business management, and went to San Antonio as an active-duty officer, where he also later earned his MBA at St. Mary’s University. Then he became one of just seven recipients Air Force–wide of a competitive legal education program scholarship fully funded by the Air Force. Participants complete law school, perform military duties, learn military law, and become judge advocates.
“I fell in love with labor and employment law because I got the chance to become a trusted legal and business advisor while still using my litigation courtroom skills.”
Although Wright didn’t follow the most direct route to his JAG career, he says his time as a cadet in the Air Force Academy wasn’t wasted. Flying T-41 trainer aircraft showed him how to react to a high-stress environment and remain calm under pressure.
“The rigorous training prepared me for anything and made me a driven, disciplined, and focused leader,” he says. Wright graduated magna cum laude from the University of Houston Law Center, where he was selected for the Houston Law Review. He currently serves as the Law Center’s first African American president of the law alumni association as well as the first African American chair of the Houston Law Review board of directors in the law school’s history.
Wright passed the bar exam in Texas and accepted an assignment to Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, DC, where he initially served as a prosecutor. After two years, he moved to Andrews Air Force Base as a criminal defense attorney. In that role, he acted as lead counsel for more than thirty bench and jury trials.
In 2001, Wright represented a staff sergeant in the aftermath of a high-profile friendly fire incident. Six individuals, including four US soldiers, died in Kuwait when an F/A-18 pilot dropped his payload on an observation post during a training exercise. Although Wright’s client was initially charged with negligent homicide, the case never went to trial, and Wright helped him avoid criminal exposure.
The four-year period was an important one for Wright, as he worked both sides of the aisle. “I learned to be less myopic and more balanced as I split time between prosecution and defense,” he says. “It still helps me to this day, as I strive to fairly examine all sides of every issue from multiple points of view.”
It was Wright’s next assignment that led him squarely into the world of labor and employment law. In 2005, he transitioned to March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, California, to help US attorneys respond to employment litigation-related cases brought against the Air Force by civilian employees.
“I fell in love with labor and employment law because I got the chance to become a trusted legal and business advisor while still using my litigation courtroom skills,” Wright says. Over three years, he responded to more than fifty Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) discrimination complaints, negotiating thirteen settlements and winning six summary judgments.
“Teamwork and a sense of belonging are critical values in the military and at KBR. People need to feel a connection to work that matters.”
As Wright’s active-duty service commitment to the Air Force expired, he faced a decision. The job market was good, and he had received an unexpected job offer that would bring him back home to Texas. But it would mean leaving the military after fourteen years. After judiciously weighing the options, Wright decided to step away from active-duty service with the military. This time, instead of notifying a commanding officer, he had to break the news to another dominant presence—his mother.
“Telling my mom was harder than telling my Air Force superiors because I come from a long line of proud veterans,” he says. But Wright was at peak marketability and knew the move would broaden his skills and unite the best of both worlds. He started his civilian career as an employment litigator at Haynes and Boone but maintained a part-time military JAG role in the Air Force Reserve.
After adding big-firm experience, Wright went in-house as TransCanada’s first US-based labor and employment lawyer. He became a key advisor, defended a critical wrongful death case, led a cross-border team, and learned about labor union law on projects in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. While at TransCanada, he also completed his military service and, in 2012, retired from the Air Force in the rank of lieutenant colonel.
In 2016, Wright joined KBR following two large acquisitions that solidified the company’s status as a top government contractor. Currently, he manages all global labor and employment law matters and leads employment dispute and litigation services across various business lines, including government solutions and technology solutions.
Wright has also been involved in shaping KBR’s overall business strategy at a critical time for the company. Although KBR was once a traditional energy and construction company, it is now focused on science, technology, and systems engineering. To that end, it is training astronauts at NASA facilities and recently won a $400 million contract to provide other mission-critical space support services.
Last year, the retired Air Force officer leveraged his leadership skills to make an impact as part of KBR’s inclusion and diversity council. “Teamwork and a sense of belonging are critical values in the military and at KBR,” Wright says. “People need to feel a connection to work that matters.” Wright is helping lead the strategy for developing education and training around courageous conversations, unconscious bias, and corporate responses, all of which will help employees thrive as KBR becomes an “even more inclusive workplace.”
Wright has found a home at KBR. It’s a workplace where he can unite his military service and his leadership experience to effect real change. “I’m in a great place,” he says. “I get to operate as if I am a civilian JAG working in a Fortune 500 company.”
The Kullman Firm:
“Victor is a savvy problem-solver who is always thinking outside the box. His creative leadership and dedication are unparalleled, and he is truly an asset to KBR and his team.”
–Sam Zurik, Shareholder
Maynard Cooper & Gale:
“It is such a privilege to work with Victor, and not just on a professional level but on a personal level as well. Victor has a laser-like focus on his client’s business goals. We look forward to continuing to work with Victor and his team at KBR.”
–Matthew Stiles, Shareholder | Labor, Employment & Benefits