“I GREW UP ON PERRY MASON,” admitted Dave S. Hattem ’81, senior executive director, general counsel, and corporate secretary for AXA Equitable. “My idea of a lawyer was a trial lawyer.”
His journey from the courtroom to the C-suite began in Queens, where he grew up. The youngest of four children, Hattem attended New York City’s public schools and went on to Hunter College before enrolling at Brooklyn Law School, where he served as managing editor of the Brooklyn Law Review, was a member of the Moot Court Honor Society, and gained valuable experience in the Manhattan District Attorney’s clinic.
After law school, Hattem went to work for a Wall Street law firm to gain corporate litigation experience, but after several years he recognized law firm life was not for him. In 1985 he changed direction and embarked on a distinguished career as a federal prosecutor with the Eastern District of New York. Hattem was first appointed as an Assistant United States Attorney and went on to become acting chief and deputy chief of the criminal division.
Hattem handled high-profile bank robberies and white-collar crime cases, including an 18-month federal investigation that led to the seizure of 75,000 counterfeit prints, purportedly produced by Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, and Joan Miró.
“There were no guns or drugs involved,” Hattem said. “To prove the case, we had paper and images spread on the table. There was a Long Island grandmother, her two daughters, and even a granddaughter involved in the operations.”
After almost a decade as a federal prosecutor in one of the most active federal courts in the nation, Hattem decided it was time for a change.
He shifted gears in 1994 and joined the New York office of AXA Equitable, a 160-year-old French holding company for a group of international insurance and financial-services companies, including AXA Equitable Financial Services, as head of litigation. Hattem became deputy general counsel in 2004, and then general counsel in 2010. In December 2017, he was elected chair of the board of directors of Life Insurance Council of New York, the domestic trade association representing the life insurance industry. Today, he is also a member of AXA Equitable Holdings’ management committee. Hattem oversees AXA Equitable Holdings’ law departments, including compliance and government relations. He is also responsible for the corporate secretary’s functions, and helping the company navigate the legal and regulatory environment to achieve its strategic goals.
Today, AXA Equitable is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange after an initial public offering last year; the company, said Hattem, now has the feel of a startup—but one whose mission is to have a positive impact on individuals and communities. “We’re certainly in the business of making money—we’re entrusted with $600 billion in assets under management through our two principal subsidiaries—but we have a larger responsibility as well,” he said.
For example, AXA Hearts in Action teams AXA employees with local nonprofits to spearhead initiatives and projects involving environmental sustainability, disaster preparedness, accident prevention, financial education, and at-risk youth.
“My advice to younger lawyers is this,” said Hattem, reflecting on the trajectory of his career. “Be flexible when opportunities arise and make the best of them. Work hard and be the person who can be counted on to get the job done. Also, stay positive. It helps one get through the twists and turns in life, and it certainly [makes you] a lot more fun to be around.”
—by Elaine Friedman