Becca Polak admits that she wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to leave her job at the law firm Krieg DeVault in 2005 to join the auto auction company Adesa, the forerunner to KAR Auction Services Inc.
“During the first six months, I thought, ‘What have I done?’” she recalled. “I knew nothing about the automotive business and was not especially into cars.” (The first she owned was a 1985 white Camaro with red interior.)
What she did know was how to juggle a range of responsibilities.
As general counsel for KAR Auction Services—which now owns Adesa and other automotive entities—she runs a legal department that includes 14 lawyers and an equal number of support staff for a 12,000-employee company with $4 billion in annual revenue.
As executive vice president and secretary to the board, she’s a key member of the senior management team for the Carmel-based company, which offers end-to-end services for wholesale used-car sellers and buyers.
Polak was born in St. Louis while her father, Steve Claffey, was attending Washington University Law School. The family moved here in 1971, when he joined what’s now Faegre Baker Daniels, where he continues to practice.
She knew she wanted to be a lawyer, but not a “telephone lawyer” like her dad, who spent much of his time sitting in his office talking to clients.
She decided to travel after finishing her Indiana University degree in English. She soon found herself in Dallas, where she met her husband-to-be, Jonathan Polak, a student at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law. They both received their law degrees there.
When Polak was pregnant with her second child, the couple wanted to be near relatives and opted for Indianapolis. He is now a partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister, while she landed at Krieg DeVault, where her securities and merger and acquisition work led to an opportunity to go in-house at Adesa as associate general counsel.
Polak’s preference is to come in at the front end of a potential deal.
“Meeting with management is key and critical for a good acquisition,” she said.
She also prefers to negotiate face to face.
“You get more done,” she said. “People aren’t putting you on mute and checking email. You can see body language and tone. In person, I can say, ‘I won’t walk out of the conference room until the deal is done.’ And when you know you’re going to have dinner with the people afterward, it’s harder to be rude.”
Polak serves on the boards for WFYI and Indiana Repertory Theatre. She enjoys antiquing and decorating, raising three children, and fielding questions from people who want to know if she can help them find a used car.•
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