Monthly Feature: Get to Know... Grayson T. Walter
July 1, 2021
Grayson grew up in the culturally and economically diverse University neighborhood on the east side of Syracuse. After high school, he accepted an appointment to the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. “Among the things I really enjoyed about my time at the Academy was the emphasis that was placed on teamwork and personal accountability,” he recalls.
While a cadet at the Academy, Gray competed as a member of the varsity lacrosse and alpine ski teams, endured basic training and combat survival training, and was certified as an expert marksman and glider pilot, in addition to receiving recognition for outstanding academic and athletic achievement. The Academy also gave Gray exposure to a wide variety of team dynamics among individuals from varying backgrounds, regions, and nationalities. Toward the end of his third-class (sophomore) year, Gray suffered a shoulder injury in lacrosse practice that would end up disqualifying him from serving as a pilot. After undergoing surgery to repair the shoulder, Gray transferred to Hamilton College to complete his undergraduate education. It was there that his plans for a future legal career started to take shape.
“I’d gone to the Academy thinking I’d likely be a mechanical engineer given my interests in science and technology,” Gray says. “I enjoyed my engineering courses and got high marks, but the further I got into college, the more I gravitated toward political theory, government studies and business and economics. Those disciplines, like engineering, are all essentially concerned with problem solving, but also add into the equation the inherent uncertainty of the human element. My interest in the way we as a society go about trying to solve for human behavior got me thinking about law school.”
He attended Vanderbilt University Law School, in Nashville, Tennessee where he focused on business law. During a summer clerkship while in school, Grayson discovered that commercial restructuring and business bankruptcy was an area of law that melded several of his skill sets.
“In turnaround situations there’s a codified set of laws and rules governing the relationship between a business and its creditors, but because those rules need to account for variations across a wide range of industries and economic and business situations, there is a significant amount of flexibility and discretion built into the system which often allows for, and rewards, creative approaches and custom tailored solutions, which I enjoy developing and implementing for my clients,” he said. “Achieving a positive result also often requires good business sense, planning and strategic acumen, as well as the confidence to tackle unique challenges and address questions in situations of first impression where there may be little or no guidance from the courts.”
Gray met his wife Lynette in law school. Together they set out for Chicago where Gray practiced in the corporate and commercial bankruptcy practices at Winston & Strawn and later at Proskauer Rose.
The couple returned to the Syracuse area about ten years ago, when Gray joined Bond. “It’s a great firm with a lot of incredibly talented individuals,” Gray says. “When I was looking to move back to Syracuse, Bond was clearly the premier choice among firms with an Upstate presence. The level of expertise and manpower Bond routinely brings to bear for its clients is equal to or better than what I’ve seen working at, alongside, and opposite many of the largest international law firms, and at Bond we can do it far more economically than our larger competitors. The chance to really work as a team at Bond was also exciting.”
Gray finds his transactional practice exciting because it affords him a role in helping companies and their owners grow their businesses and transition for future success drawing upon his creative approach to problem solving and business insights. He has been involved a wide range of transactions, including mergers, acquisitions, divestitures and financing deals for manufacturers, financial institutions, technology companies, consumer products companies, dairy cooperatives, traditional and renewable-source electric generation facilities, as well as clients in a wide range of other industries. Gray also regularly counsels clients with respect to corporate governance, regulatory compliance, contract negotiation and disputes, and other general business matters.
His corporate reorganization practice can be especially gratifying when a successful turnaround saves an otherwise struggling enterprise and imperiled jobs.
For example, Gray recently helped revive a struggling 128-year-old paper mill in Jefferson County, New York. The mill, Carthage Specialty Paperboard, abruptly found itself without sufficient cash to continue operations and was forced to furlough workers. Gray and a team of other Bond lawyers helped Carthage seek chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and develop a plan to restart manufacturing while positioning the mill for a sale. The successful revival and subsequent sale of the business generated significant value, preserving more than 80 jobs in an economically struggling area of New York’s North Country, and was recognized by The M&A Advisor as Turnaround of the Year ($10MM to $100MM).
“It’s nice to look back on the successful reorganizations I’ve been part of,” Grayson says. “People often have a negative impression when they hear the term ‘bankruptcy’ but what they may not immediately appreciate, at least in the business context, is that the whole chapter 11 process is structured around preserving as much value as possible for the benefit of creditors. Economically troubled businesses are usually able to pay more back to their creditors, and provide greater value to society, if they can be maintained as a going concern rather than broken up into parts or closed completely, and the bankruptcy process provides valuable tools to keep a business together for the benefit of everyone involved.”
Gray has worked on reorganizations involving other specialty and non-specialty manufacturers, hospitals and health care facilities and providers, higher-education institutions, energy producers, professional sports teams, newspapers and media companies, transportation and logistics contractors, real estate projects, construction companies, gas stations and convenience stores, industrial service providers, non-profit organizations and municipal corporations where the debts at issue ranged from tens of thousands to several hundreds of millions of dollars.
Gray also regularly helps clients who find themselves involved with a financially distressed business partner, including advising on permissible debt collection practices, dealing with bankrupt suppliers, customers or contract counterparties, and defending against lawsuits seeking to claw back funds previously received from an insolvent trading partner.
In his free time, Gray volunteers as a youth ski coach in the winter and enjoys fishing and sailing in the summer. He also cheers on Syracuse University sports teams, especially basketball and lacrosse.