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Chief Corporate and Securities Counsel General Electric Co. 2004 Revenues: $15.3 billion Lawyers in Legal Department: 1,073
Michael McAlevey spent his teenage summers on a Florida golf course. Not teeing off, but installing sprinkler systems to help pay his private high school tuition. The youngest in a family of four kids, he put himself through high school and college with part-time jobs; he chose Washington and Lee University for his undergraduate work because it offered the biggest scholarship. Financial security was a primary goal for McAlevey, 41, now the chief corporate and securities counsel at General Electric Co. But in college he caught the attention of an English professor who encouraged him to think more broadly about his ambitions. “This is very good. Please come see me,” the teacher wrote on his freshman English paper. After that, McAlevey started thinking about a career path that might be more rewarding, if less remunerative, than finance. “If I weren’t a lawyer, I would probably have ended up on Wall Street in a bank, because it’s a place where a smart young guy can make a lot of money.” Still, the debate between making a hefty salary, or doing lower-paying but more challenging work, continued to affect McAlevey’s career. He made partner at Alston & Bird’s Atlanta office in just six years. But two years later, in 1998, he left that lucrative position for a job as deputy director of the corporation finance division of the Securities and Exchange Commission. (Alston & Bird had profits per partner of $505,000 in 1997, according to Corporate Counsel‘s sibling publication The American Lawyer.) McAlevey says he was hesitant to leave private practice, as corporate finance was “white-hot” at the time. But Alston partners Bryan Davis and Dean Copeland (now GC at UnumProvident Corp.) urged him to grab the position, saying that he’d never regret the experience. His former partners were right. McAlevey’s in-depth knowledge of federal securities law is one of the things that distinguish him as a potential GC, says Weil, Gotshal & Manges partner Thomas Roberts, outside counsel to GE. While at the SEC, McAlevey was involved in drafting Regulation FD, the fair disclosure rule that prohibits companies from selectively revealing material information, and the Electronic Signature Act, a federal law that gives electronic signatures the same validity as their hard copy counterparts. McAlevey returned to Alston & Bird in late 2001 as a partner. But in 2003 Benjamin Heineman Jr., now GE’s senior vice president for law and public affairs, recruited him to spearhead the company’s efforts to improve its transparency and corporate governance. Last November the Fairfield, Conn.-based conglomerate received the highest rating for its corporate governance in The Financial Times‘ World’s Most Respected Companies report. At GE, McAlevey also earned a reputation for fiscal responsibility. Roberts adds that he is “value-driven because he knows so much to begin with. He already has a good sense of the issues, so he doesn’t waste time getting explanations.” McAlevey says, “The more complicated the problems are, the more value the lawyer brings. … We’re not just in this to make dough, but to be interested and make a difference.”

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