Meet Norman Reed, General Counsel at Ripple Labs

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Bringing a wealth of experience—from the New York Fed to the SEC in D.C.—Ripple Labs is thrilled to announce that Norman Reed has joined the team as general counsel.

In a sense, the husband and father of two will have the role of chessmaster, looking one or two steps ahead to ensure that the company can constructively and effectively avoid potential problems—an inevitability at the convergence of finance and technology.

Though the Columbia Law grad and former US Army paratrooper is still getting his toes wet, he sat down with me to discuss the past, the present, and a little bit of the future.

So Norman, it’s not every day an East Coast big wig ends up at a budding West Coast startup. Can you tell us about the path that led you here?

Norman: I graduated law school in 1990 at Columbia University in New York City. After school, I worked for a large international law firm for three years. From there, I got a job at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. That’s where I met Karen. I stayed for about six and a half years before I found myself in Washington D.C. working for the SEC at the Office of the Chief Counsel in the Division of Trading and Markets.

That division was where all the financial intermediary stuff happens—essentially broker dealers, clearing agencies, and stock exchanges. The work we did stemmed from the Securities Act of 1934.

Then in early 2007, I got a job offer to join a joint venture of the Thomson Reuters Corporation and the Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation called OMGEO to be general counsel. OMGEO is basically a way for institutional trades to be processed in the U.S. and the firm had a very big international presence in 52 countries with 11 overseas offices and over 900 employees while I was there.

And I’ve been there until I started here a couple weeks ago.

Can you tell us about some of the work you worked with Karen on at the New York Fed?

I was at the Fed in the wake of a banking crisis in the early 1990s with the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI).

[Editor’s note: BCCI was a major international bank that operated in 78 countries, had assets in excess of $20 billion—making it the 7th largest private bank in the world at the time, and also happened to be one of the most corrupt, sophisticated, and ambitious criminal organizations in modern finance. Time magazine labeled it “the dirtiest bank of all,” in 1991, describing a vehicle free of government control, existing primarily to commit fraud on a massive scale.]

Norman (continued): In the wake of BCCI—along with some other shifty things happening in the early 1990s in the banking industry—the Fed wanted to start up an enforcement group styled after the SEC enforcement group. That’s where Karen and I worked along with half a dozen other attorneys. We eventually parted ways. Karen went on to Promontory while I ended up at the SEC.

And now our paths intersect again.

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How did you end up at Ripple?

I was already looking for a job at the time with West Coast tech firms. I had become fairly familiar in the last eight years with the East Coast fintech scene—most of which had been built out in the ‘60s or ‘70s. While they’ve made incremental changes since then, the systems are still clunky and dated. Even a lawyer like me could see they were extremely expensive and really, not very good.

My hope was that I could find a company that was building financial technology for the future that would appreciate my legal and regulatory background. Given my experience in the post-trade processing world, I figured I could offer a startup some credibility and some good contacts. Likewise, that company could offer me the opportunity to help build a new business based around 21st century technology instead of tech that was already half a century old.

As it turned out, Karen asked to see me last winter when she was in New York and told me about Ripple. I thought to myself—this sounds exactly like what I’m looking for.

What was it about Ripple?

It sounded very innovative compared to what I was used to—which was incremental improvements that were very expensive, poorly done, and often didn’t work very well. It was painful at times. You’d spend maybe hundreds of millions of dollars to get something that was essentially a new version of the square wheel.

I liked the idea that Ripple Labs was solving problems that no one I knew was thinking about—at least that I’d heard of. I knew a lot of people in the fintech community on the East Coast, and no one was coming close to this kind of creative problem solving. So the potential solutions being proposed intrigued me. And the more I learned about it, the more intrigued I became.

So who’s Norman Reed?

I was born in Orlando, Florida but we moved to Ohio, right outside of Cincinnati. I spent my formative years in Southern Ohio, John Boehner’s district. I went to Ohio State and got two history degrees before I went to New York for my law degree.

In the interim, I was also in the 82nd Airborne—based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I was raised to be patriotic. I come from a small town in the Midwest so I was raised to be a good, healthy American. Patriotism and supporting the American way of life was part of our DNA.

I wanted to do more than just talk about it. So I spent three years on active duty. I read a lot of Roman and Greek history, like the History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, and I also had read a lot of history about the battles between Rome and Carthage. I was a junkie for the classics. So I was into the whole citizen soldier idea.

What’s jumping out of an airplane like?

The big military jets they were using in the early ’80s—like the C-141 Starlifter, a four engine jet—would stall if they slowed down too much. This meant there was a lot of suction near the jump doors, the laws of physics. When the light turned green, we would just march towards the door, one soldier behind the other. You get close to the door, close your eyes, and wham—you were sucked out of the plane. In other words, there technically wasn’t any jumping.

I was skinnier back then.

Any final thoughts?

Everyone knows there’s a tremendous opportunity here. We have a great technology. Not only that, it’s a good time in history in the sense that we’re at the part of the tech cycle where the old stuff is just getting too old to work anymore. It just doesn’t make sense to keep it around for another twenty years.

So there are lots of opportunities. There will be a small group of companies that are going to be very successful at offering new solutions. Ripple, in my opinion, is an odds on favorite to be one of the big winners this tech cycle.

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