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Thomas: League’s only female GC At first glance, Suzie Thomas seems an anomaly as GC of the Houston Texans, a pro football expansion team that just finished its first season last year. For starters, she’s the only female GC in the testosterone-laden National Football League, and one of just ten women in vice presidential positions or higher. Plus, Thomas confesses that she wasn’t a fan of the sport before joining the Texans. She readily admits that the Xs and Os of the playing field elude her, and she occasionally gets razzed about her less-than-expert knowledge of the game. Still, when Texans owner Bob McNair hired Thomas in 2000, she had one overriding asset that made her a smart pick: 18 years of in-house experience. Since becoming GC for the Texans, Thomas has focused on what she knows best — contracts — while leaving almost everything else to outside counsel, professional negotiators, and NFL officials. Before joining the team, Thomas served as GC for just over a year at Corporate Brand Foods America, a Houston-based meat processor. Prior to that, she was GC for a dozen years at Weatherford International, Inc., an energy service and manufacturing company, also headquartered in Houston. A Weatherford International connection brought Thomas to the Texans. Philip Burgu�eres previously had served as chairman and CEO of the company before joining McNair’s company as vice chairman. Burgu�eres told McNair that the team needed an in-house attorney to manage all of the team’s various legal matters. “A Totally Different Arena” McNair was initially skeptical. He describes his general corporate philosophy as “the fewer employees, the better.” But starting up a pro sports team involves a ton of legal issues, on everything from stadium leases to sponsorship agreements. “We were spending a lot of money on the legal side,” McNair says. He finally decided to bring Thomas on board as GC, senior vice president, and chief administrative officer. (Though she is technically employed by the McNair Group, most of Thomas’s work is for the Texans.) The job was a big change for Thomas, who says it’s “just a totally different arena.” Coming from a business-to-business environment, she wasn’t used to a situation in which individual consumers were so important. Advertising issues were new to her. And the team trademark and logo — even the team colors — were a much bigger deal than she realized. Because Thomas is the team’s only in-house lawyer, most matters go to the team’s roster of outside counsel, which includes the Houston office of Dallas-based Winstead Sechrest & Minick and Houston-based Fulbright & Jaworski. Trademark infringement issues are punted to the NFL. Feeling The Spirit Of The Field But Thomas works on most of the Texans’ contracts. The highest-profile agreements for an NFL franchise are those between the team and the individual players. Because these contracts include a host of highly specific issues, the Texans hire a negotiator to handle talks with athletes. The NFL provides a standard contract, a lengthy collection of documents. Thomas tweaks contracts to suit individual situations and handles related paperwork. Her own customized additions include marketing riders, public appearance provisions, and requirements regarding outside sponsorships. Though Thomas works at the team’s stadium, she doesn’t have a view of the field. But everyone in the office feels close to the game anyway, she says. The Texans finished their first season in December with a 4-12 record — respectable for an expansion team. While lawyers at a firm may get pumped after winning a big case, Thomas says that a gridiron victory is what fires up her office.

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