By Laura Latzko
For attorney and car enthusiast Matt Ohre, working as general counsel for Barrett-Jackson, one of the world’s top collector car auction companies, is realizing his dreams.
In 2014, Ohre joined Barrett-Jackson as general counsel. By then, Barrett-Jackson, established in 1971, was long entrenched in the auto auction market. It hosts four events per year—in Scottsdale, Palm Beach, Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, and Las Vegas.
This year for the Scottsdale auction, set for January 11 to January 19 at WestWorld of Scottsdale, Barrett-Jackson has consigned more than 1,800 vehicles. Nearly all of them are offered at “no reserve,” and many of which have impressive historical significance. The auction is expected to draw more than 5,000 prequalified bidders.
A Fountain Hills native, Ohre attended the famous Scottsdale automotive event for a number of years before working for the company.
“I love cars. My first car was a 1989 Mustang GT 5.0. I’ve always been a car nut,” Ohre says. “I used to go to Barrett-Jackson all the time with my wife. I used to also take my mother and father when I would get tickets.”
Ohre earned a Juris Doctor degree from the Syracuse University College of Law and a bachelor’s degree in finance from the W.P. Carey School of Business at ASU. Starting out, he worked as a law clerk with Judge John Gemmill of the Arizona Court of Appeals.
Before starting with Barrett-Jackson, he worked for nine years with Squire Patton Boggs LLP, an outside law firm that dealt extensively with Barrett-Jackson.
With Squire Patton Boggs, Ohre gained experience in areas such as trademark infringement, employment and labor conflicts, breach of contract, noncompete and nonsolicit agreements and other business-related issues.
He also helped negotiate and write business agreements and was a part of the firm’s hiring committee.
He says although working at a big law firm helped to prepare him for the fast-paced world of car auctions, the two are definitely different animals.
“I always say it’s the difference between legal speed and business speed,” Ohre says. “Legal speed is much slower. You’ve got more time to digest and analyze problems and help solve them, whereas business speed is much quicker. You are working with business folks, and they need an answer soon.”
As Barrett-Jackson’s lawyer, he brings “common sense” to the table.
“I try not to overlegalize everything,” he says, “When you are an in-house lawyer, and you are working directly with business folks, you want them to trust you, and you want them to think you are a reasonable person who is on their side trying to get things accomplished.”
His job involves different tasks, including negotiating and drafting various agreements, including sponsorship and service agreements. His work takes him into many different areas of law, including the use of a celebrity’s image and likeness, rights to use music and other content, and various issues involving collector cars, including a car’s VIN and authenticity.
He has learned to be flexible and to find a solution on deadline.
“You never want to be the in-house lawyer who always says no,” Ohre says. “You want to be the lawyer who says, ‘Here’s how to do it and reduce or manage the risk in doing it.’”
He works closely with each Barrett-Jackson department, but often collaborates with sponsorship and marketing. One part of the event that Ohre finds most rewarding is the ability to participate in the charity car sales at the events. Often, the sales of the charity cars will benefit military and children’s charities. Ohre says meeting military and political leaders has been especially meaningful for him. One of his most notable experiences was when President George W. Bush attended the Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale show in 2018.
Being a Barrett-Jackson executive gives Ohre a behind-the-scenes look at organizing an event of this magnitude.
“You don’t realize how much it takes to put on the event, particularly from an operating standpoint,” Ohre says.
He says having the chance to see such extraordinary cars up for auction is still exciting for him. Over the years, some of his favorites have been cars previously owned by John Lennon, Elvis and Johnny Cash.
“I remember walking the site, thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is my job to be around these types of cars,” Ohre says. “As the years have progressed, I still get excited about the cars, but the ones I get most excited about now are the historical cars.”