After gaining a variety of legal experience at law firms, including Nixon Peabody and McSween, Burtch & Crump, Eric Black found himself working in-house for telecommunication companies that were developing virtual private networks and technology that organizations like Zoom rely on today.
As the telecommunication industry navigated deregulation and the internet came into its own, Black had a front-row seat to the technological evolution that would go on to change the world. However, he admits that it was challenging to grasp the magnitude of the new technology as it was happening.
“I was fortunate enough to not only work with the several leading technology companies in Rochester but also the George Eastman Museum (International Museum of Photography and Film), who advanced a project to digitize a database of pictures and images, which I definitely didn’t appreciate it real time,” he reflects. “But when I look back at it now, I realize that project was a transformational moment in history.”
Black continues, “When I moved on and worked with the telecommunication companies and virtual private networks, I don’t think we understood how it was changing society. Before such networks were developed, multiple office locations would typically communicate by phone calls to each other. There wasn’t an intranet where you could dial four digits; instead, you dialed the full number. In retrospect, I was part of one of the first companies to develop virtual private networks.”
Today, he is fully aware of the significance of his work at Vuzix, a leading supplier of smart glasses and augmented reality technologies for defense, industrial, and enterprise markets. Black serves as a general counsel who believes the products the company produces could change the way people interact and see the world.
“Who ever thought thirty years ago that your cell phone would also be your computer? Now, you can perform Google searches and carry documents on it.” he says. “With the technology we have with augmented reality, we know the possibilities. This is something people can wear every day, whether working on the manufacturing line, at the grocery store, or while they’re riding their bike.
“Vuzix has pioneered this technology for the workplace, but its impact will be far reaching. It is expected that once it’s adopted by society as a whole, it will be evolutionary and change the way people communicate, use the internet, and go about their days,” Black adds.
The attorney steers the company toward that vision with the contracts he works on and the legal support he provides to company leaders. He also does it in other ways, including with his leadership style. He’s a leader who places a lot of emphasis on building trust and respect among everyone he works with.
“Treat people with respect across the board. It doesn’t matter who it is,” he says. “I lead with my door open. I’ll have a conversation with anyone, and I never ask someone to do something that I wouldn’t do myself. As a leader, you are accountable for the work product that leaves the group, but you also have to delegate in a way that helps the team have ownership.”
Pushing forth a new, transformative technology also comes with its challenges. It takes not only a lot of investment but also strong contracts that aim to protect the companies’ interests.
“When you’re pushing things out to third parties as new technologies are developed,” he explains, “they have to trust that you’re going to meet the specifications and what you’re committing to deliver and that it’s going to work the way you say. From a legal perspective, we want to be accountable for the product we’re putting out there and that’s what a lot the contracts center around.”
Black has several pieces of advice for young people: be disciplined in every aspect of your life, be a good person, treat people with respect along the way, and keep in mind that “adversity is something that sometimes can be useful.”
“Life is not about never making a mistake,” he says. “Learn how to use mistakes or adversity in a positive way to help you grow in the long run. As long as you’re accountable for whatever happens, it can be used for positive growth.”