It’s hard to imagine that Teri McClure has time to sleep. Working with a staff of just 58 lawyers, McClure oversees the legal department of UPS, one of the largest employers in the country with an operational network that snakes from its headquarters in Atlanta into the far corners of the world.
In all, the company has operations in more than 200 countries and delivers 15 million packages a day. It operates approximately 92,000 vehicles and a fleet of nearly 309 airplanes. On top of that, the company employs a staggering 407,000 people, nearly half of whom are Teamsters. This all adds up to the potential for a crippling amount of legal risk. It’s McClure’s job to make sure that potential doesn’t turn into reality.
McClure, though, seems up to the task. After cutting her teeth as an employment lawyer for a number of firms in Atlanta, she joined UPS’s legal team in 1995 as employment counsel. Three years later the company promoted her to coordinator of the employment practice group. It was a signal that McClure was headed for bigger and better things at UPS, which places a premium on lawyers with labor and employment expertise.
The company also puts a lot of value on lawyers who understand the business. McClure got an opportunity to prove her value on that front when the company asked her to run the company’s business operations in central Florida in 2003. In that capacity, she was responsible for all aspects of the region’s package pick-up and delivery services and operations. It was that exposure, along with her labor and employment background, that made her the natural choice to succeed Allen Hill, who stepped down as general counsel in December 2005 to become vice president of human resources.
Q. Why did you decide to become a lawyer?
A. My grandfather was a lawyer. He and the rest of the family loved to debate. We debated everything from what’s the best TV show to who the best wrestler was–my grandfather loved wrestling. We learned quickly how to argue points, take positions and defend them, and I wanted to do that going forward.
Q. What attracted you to UPS?
A. I was about to become a partner at my firm and realized it wasn’t something I wanted to do long term. I actually did not look for the UPS opportunity. But when it landed on my doorstep, it made me re-evaluate what my goals and priorities were and what I was really interested in doing.
Q. What was the most significant issue you worked on during your early days at UPS?
A. Probably an ADA case [Murphy v. UPS] involving an individual who had hypertension. There was a split in the circuits as to whether you evaluated an ADA plaintiff in a medicated or unmedicated state to determine if they were disabled under the ADA. We won in the Supreme Court.
Q. It seems that you have a lot of employment-related issues at UPS. Why
A. We have 407,000 employees. We’re the largest employer of Teamsters, and we’re the fifth largest employer in the U.S. Just by virtue of those numbers, labor and employment matters are going to be a significant part of what we do.
Q. You also have 800 patents? That surprised me.
A. When you need to figure out where a package is at any given time in the world, you can imagine that there would be some very intricate systems in place that would be able to do that. So we do have a number of unique technology systems that allow us to track packages, provide data to our customers and move packages. The company spends about a billion dollars a year on technology.
Q. In 2003 you took on a business role. Was that part of a grooming process to take over the GC position?
A. I wouldn’t call it grooming, but I would say it was an opportunity for me to be exposed more directly to the business operations. And certainly just understanding the business and having that direct involvement in the business is critical to any sort of upward advancement at UPS.
Q. Did you enjoy it?
A. I loved it. I certainly wouldn’t be able to do my job as well if I didn’t have that opportunity. It was very different. I went from a legal department in which you worry about hundreds of thousands of dollars to a business unit where you worry about each penny.
Q. How do you expose your staff to the business side?
A. We try to have all of our attorneys participate in a district experience. That might be a week, several weeks or a month. But you have to understand our legal department is a little unique in that about half of the attorneys here started with the organization on the operations side, went to law school at night and then joined the legal department.
Q. How important is diversity in your department?
A. It’s certainly a factor that we recognize as an organization and specifically as a legal department. I serve as the co-chair of the company’s diversity committee along with our CEO and our senior vice president of HR. So we are very committed to diversity within the legal department as well as in the entire company, and we certainly look for ways to ensure that that takes place.
Q. What is the hardest part of your job?
A. Staying out of jail. Whenever I read all these magazine articles, I’m like, “man, I should really be worried.” It is increasingly a challenge to make sure that legal problems are uncovered and addressed appropriately. That’s a charge I’ve given my staff. They have a responsibility to bring things to a head, to raise things to the appropriate level and to bring things to my attention that need to be brought.
Q. What is the strangest legal issue you have had to deal with?
A. Not sure. But we do deal with some strange stuff–like people trying to ship live animals and people.
Q. People? Really?
A. Let’s just say it is pretty interesting what people try to sneak through
Q. I read somewhere that you spend about $18.7 million a year on parking tickets in New York City. Is that true?
A. That number sounds right. It is the cost of doing business in New York,
Q. You do a lot of charitable work. How do you find the time?
A. Well I think it’s really a reflection of the company. The company encourages employees to be engaged in community service. It is something that attracted me to the organization from the very beginning [McClure serves on boards of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Center for Working Families and Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and Atlanta Legal Aid Society.]
Q. How did you meet your husband?
A. I met him at a church singles conference here in Atlanta [McClure's husband is a minister].
Q. What kind of church does your husband preach in?
A. We started a church three years ago called Power in Christ Ministry.
Q. Tell me about your great, great grandfather–Henry Plummer.
A. He was dishonorably discharged from the army during the Civil War for allegedly fraternizing with nonofficers. He was one of the first black chaplains in the army, which was an officer position, and allegedly he had a drink with an enlisted man and that resulted in him being discharged. For many years our family has fought to have his discharge overturned. That was ultimately done last year.
Q. What do you do for fun?
A. When I’m not working, not being a first lady of a church and shuttling my kids around? I like to read and watch movies. We are actually writing a couple of movie scripts. We currently have three scripts in development, one cartoon animation, one family comedy
and one suspense drama. It is a retirement project.