“The generation before me did all the hard work of trailblazing,” said Eva M. Kripalani JD’86, executive vice president and general counsel for Knowledge Learning Corp. in Portland, Ore. “In speaking with some of these women, I got the sense that they had fought battles to get to where they were. I didn’t have to fight any battles.”
Raised in Portland, Kripalani considers herself “very much a local girl.” Although her parents never had the opportunity to attend college, they instilled in their children a passion for education, which Kripalani has sustained throughout her life. “I had an interest in law from the time I was very young,” she said. “But I surprised myself with my interest in business. I accidentally took an accounting class and found that I liked it.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in finance-law from Portland State University, Kripalani enrolled in law school at Willamette. “I always saw myself in an advocacy role,” said Kripalani, who clerked for a commercial defense attorney in Salem throughout most of law school. “I had these ‘pie in the sky’ ideals about what litigation would be like. Little by little, I became disenchanted with the notion. I wanted to believe there was more integrity in the law, but a lot of the cases came down to the advocacy skills of the lawyer.”
Kripalani also had the opportunity to clerk for Stoel Rives LLP, a leading Northwest firm. She enjoyed “big firm life” so much that she joined their business practice group after earning her law degree and completing a clerkship with Judge Jonathan U. Newman of the Oregon Court of Appeals. Kripalani specialized in corporate and securities law and mergers and acquisitions at Stoel Rives and eventually made partner.
After 10 years with the firm, Kripalani made the leap to in-house counsel, joining KinderCare Learning Centers as vice president and general counsel. “I wanted to get away from clients’ response expectations, which can be difficult to manage,” she said. “Firms often stress the importance of individual accomplishments, but in significant transactions, one person cannot deal with all the issues that come up.”
In 2005, KinderCare was acquired by Knowledge Learning Corp., the nation’s leading for-profit provider of early childhood education and care. Kripalani led the legal department’s transition to Portland during the corporate relocation. “It is really so nice to be involved in an industry that involves caring for and educating young children,” she said. “I now get a lot more opportunity to see the positive side of the business world.”
Kripalani’s responsibilities include serving as corporate counsel and overseeing corporate communications, government relations and philanthropy. “These days, my knowledge is a mile wide and an inch deep,” she joked. “I spend a lot of time working with corporate leadership and management. I do a lot of triage. I try to provide good judgment and guidance to help move things forward.”
Since freeing herself from client demands, Kripalani has had more time to focus on giving back to the community. “As time goes on, it is increasingly more important and gratifying to have hands-on involvement,” said Kripalani, who serves on the boards of the Oregon Public Retirement System, Cascade AIDS Project and Portland State University Foundation, in addition to other community activities. “It keeps me grounded and in touch.”
A member of the Law Board of Visitors, Kripalani also supports Willamette’s law students through externships with Knowledge Learning Corp. “When I first took this job, the hardest part was dealing with the people side of the work,” she confessed. “Now that is the most gratifying part for me, bringing people along in their careers and coaching them.
“I feel incredibly fortunate,” she added. “My career turned out better than I ever expected. My position has allowed me to experience the joys of being a leader. “When you move away from what you can accomplish and focus instead on what you can motivate others to accomplish — well, that’s the Holy Grail.”