Three weeks after exiting bankruptcy and trimming $2.7 billion in debt from its balance sheet, Houston-based Talen Energy announced that company general counsel Andrew Wright is moving to the position of chief administrative officer and Vinson & Elkins partner John Wander will be the energy firm’s next GC effective June 19.
Wander, a complex commercial litigator who represented clients before the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, also has been serving as V&E’s internal general counsel. With his departure, V&E announced that partner Vanessa Griffith will be the Houston-based law firm’s new GC.
“I’m really excited for this opportunity to work with the great team Talen has assembled post-restructuring,” Wander told The Texas Lawbook in an interview. “I am especially happy that Andy is staying in a new role. I take great comfort in the fact Andy is staying at the company, especially because we have divergent strengths. He’s clearly an experienced hand at navigating a complicated restructuring, and I think we are very well-positioned today.”
“We’ve been friends for a long time, and I’m eager finally to work with him,” Wander said.
In fact, the three lawyers started practicing law together 27 years ago.
Wander and Griffith graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in 1994. Wander started at V&E that fall and focused on securities litigation. Griffith clerked for U.S. District Judge David Hittner in Houston and joined V&E’s labor and employment practice in 1996.
Wander actually interviewed Wright while Wright was a second-year law student at the University of Notre Dame Law School, and Wander was part of the V&E recruiting team that convinced Wright to join the firm’s Dallas office in 1996.
“John and I were both former CPAs and we hit it off,” Wright said.
Wright said the offer from new Talen Energy CEO Mark “Mac” McFarland to become Talen’s new CAO was a surprise.
“I worked with Mac at Energy Future Holdings where he was president of Luminant,” said Wright, who worked at V&E for eight years before joining the legal department of TXU Energy — Luminant’s sister operation — in 2004. “I’m excited for the new challenge. I’m not even changing offices, just titles. And John is an excellent choice to be the new general counsel.”
Talen is the second energy company Wright has led through a massive corporate restructuring. He guided the now defunct Energy Future Holdings — the former parent company of TXU, Luminant and Oncor — through its restructuring in 2014.
“The Talen bankruptcy lasted one year and one week, while EFH lasted four years,” he said. “Both had their difficult moments.”
The Association of Corporate Counsel’s Houston Chapter and The Texas Lawbook honored Wright last May with the 2022 Houston General Counsel of the Year Award for a Midsized Legal Department. You can read the in-depth profile of Wright here.
Wander is inheriting a Talen Energy legal department that consists of five lawyers plus the GC.
Griffith was named V&E’s deputy general counsel in 2020. She is an expert in legal ethics, risk management, legal conflicts and employment law.
“During Vanessa’s tenure as deputy general counsel, she has consistently demonstrated a deep understanding of the firm’s legal affairs, governance and industry landscape,” said V&E chair Keith Fullenweider. “Her collaborative approach, analytical skills and sound judgment have been instrumental in supporting V&E and advising the executive committee and management committee on a wide range of issues. Vanessa brings a wealth of legal knowledge and a proven track record of success to this pivotal role.”