Adam Wergeles – Leaf Group
These days, aspiring artists needn’t live in a garret (or always go hungry) to stick to their craft.
Need proof? Look no further than Saatchi Art, a website that connects a community of more than 100,000 emerging artists from 100 countries to a global network of art buyers. It’s a new marketplace medium with millions of listed original works of art where the business of buying and selling is conducted online.
It’s also one of the many spokes of a digital portfolio of brands owned and operated by Leaf Group, an American company headquartered in Santa Monica, California, which specializes in cultivating brands in passion categories such as fitness & wellness and art & design. With a portfolio that ranges from cute kittens to technology tips, the firm operates an evolving list of 10 brands and counting: Well+Good; Society6; Livestrong.com; Hunker.com; The Other Art Fair—just to name a few.
At the hub of it all is Adam Wergeles, general counsel and executive vice president for the public company that earned $155 million in revenues in 2018. As head of the legal department responsible for managing the legal affairs of the businesses, Wergeles has found a role that leverages much of his gamut-spanning experience, from international expansion and corporate financing, to securities compliance, M&A and corporate governance.
“It’s interesting to me to have the opportunity to engage and advise companies in a wide range of different business operations,” he says.
Layers of legal
Given the company’s diverse portfolio of businesses, Wergeles explains that his role at Leaf Group is a bit different than one might imagine. While each spoke of the business is run by its own general manager, none have its own general counsel.
That’s where he comes in.
“Our department supports the myriad legal and transactional needs of a host of businesses that present a fascinating and diverse array of complex legal issues,” he says.
But scratch beneath the surface and you will find there’s a lot more going on within Wergeles’ purview.
He is also focused on the more granular work embedded in each of Leaf Group’s brands: assessing business opportunities; assisting with meaningful acquisitions; managing the nitty-gritty details of technical integrations; anything that keeps good ideas coming—and the company moving forward.
At the same time, Wergeles manages a wide range of terms and conditions specific to each business sector. For Saatchi Art, that might mean preparing documents for the sale of art; tabulating taxation; monitoring international sales regulations; localizing protocols for practicing in certain jurisdictions; and managing practices regarding copyrights and intellectual property concerns.
“I always had an appreciation of art, but this was a great opportunity to employ my skills in this legal arena—all while learning about art and the art business,” Wergeles says.
Lather, rinse and repeat
As deep as Wergeles drills down into the legal fine print of one sector, the resulting processes and protocols must be replicated for each branch of the business.
It’s quite the corporate ecosystem, indeed. In the fitness & wellness category, Leaf Group operates Well+Good and Livestrong.com—two of the company’s most popular brands—which give consumers tips on healthier living. In addition to monitoring content for the sites, Wergeles must also ensure that all consumer data meets today’s increasingly stringent privacy standards.
Beyond Saatchi Art, Leaf Group’s art & design category also includes The Other Art Fair, which provides an opportunity for art lovers to discover independent artists at fairs in Brooklyn, Dallas, Los Angeles, Chicago, London and Sydney, among others. All exhibiting artists are handpicked by art industry experts and each fair represents exciting independent artists from that local community.
Then there’s Society6, a community of more than 300,000 artists who have uploaded millions of original designs which can be printed on home décor goods and accessories, such as throw pillows, tote bags, iPhone cases or even bedding and pillowcases.
“It fulfills a desire we see in the consumer base, to personalize things,” Wergeles explains. “Instead of walking into a big box store, a person can go to our site and select something that really expresses their personality and design aesthetic. It’s a dynamic marketplace.”
Your home is your castle
On the interior design and home decor front, visitors to the site Hunker are offered interior design imagery and DIY tutorials to inspire would-be designers with creative options for creating their spaces with beauty and functionality in mind.
Wergeles says Leaf Group’s team does an incredible job making each site beautiful, dynamic and engaging with accurate content. Not only does it produce the standard items one might find on a media site, but also comes up with engaging, trend-forward designs on the digital marketplaces that draw people in.
“In addition, the combination of our growing audience of more than 70 million unique monthly visitors—according to September 2019 ComScore—combined across all of our brands together with our diverse portfolio of premium brands creates unique marketing opportunities attractive to advertisers,” Wergeles observes.
Leaf Group rounds out its offerings with a whole host of other web properties. Among them, there’s Cuteness, a site loaded with heart-melting animal videos, pet tips and even a way to name your pet; eHow, which helps people develop practical solutions to everyday problems; Sapling, a site designed to demystify personal finance; and Techwalla, a site offering articles on the latest family-friendly technology advancements.
“There’s no shortage in the range of issues we see in the legal department. We have to stay mindful of copyrights, trademarks, building processes and procedures,” Wergeles says. “It’s a dynamic business environment that’s forever changing.”
Loving what he learns
Indeed, if anyone understands the importance of evolving in their environment, it’s Wergeles.
After graduating from Hamilton College in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and government, he went on to earn his law degree in 1991 from USC Gould School of Law—where he would later teach a course in negotiating and drafting contracts.
Gaining experience over the years in litigation and corporate law, however, he ultimately found his niche working in-house, melding his legal interests with the fast-paced—and high stakes—world of business. That move also happened to coincide with the explosion of the internet in the late 1990s.
Working as a chief legal officer and general counsel on the West Coast for several firms such as ReachLocal and SERVIZ, he joined Leaf Group in 2018.
“It suits me well and plays to my strengths in managing multiple businesses transitioning into growth phases,” Wergeles says of his entrée into Leaf Group’s dynamic and creative business model—a corporate ecosystem where new topics, content and ideas are constantly flowing.
More broadly, Wergeles credits his years of experience for cultivating a practical, level-headed approach to evaluating risk—and keeping projects moving forward.
“I’ve seen a lot. Some startups fail, others succeed. Business is hard and challenging, but exciting. I love the Leaf Group brands and what we’re doing. It resonates with me,” Wergeles says. “What I care about is helping young businesses grow that provide products or information which delight and inform, while creating great opportunities for our employees and driving value for our shareholders.”
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