From moving a family halfway across the country to taking a temporary position, four of Atlanta’s leading in-house lawyers recently shared some career risks they took along their journeys to the top.
The wide-ranging comments came during a panel discussion, “Navigator of Your Fate: Key Strategies for Leveraging Your Career Trajectory.” It was sponsored by the Minority In-House Counsel Association, legal recruiter Major, Lindsey & Africa and Wargo French and held Wednesday evening at the firm’s Midtown office.
The panelists included: Richard Jones, senior vice president and general counsel at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta; Peter Muniz, vice president and deputy general counsel at The Home Depot Inc.; Juliette Pryor, senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary at Cox Enterprises Inc.; and Shyam Reddy, chief administrative officer, general counsel and corporate secretary at BlueLinx Corp.
Although the industries they represent are as diverse as the lawyers themselves, the insights they shared with more than 50 attendees featured some common themes, including the important role that smart risk-tasking has played in each of their careers.
For Pryor, it was a fair amount of changing of industries, relocating and even taking demotions and pay cuts in order to “get on a path that I wanted to be on,” she said. Pryor was the top lawyer at US Foods in Chicago for more than seven years before joining Cox in October 2016.
For Muniz, the risk involved leaving his GC position at a division of General Electric, a company he had called home for 20 years, to come to Home Depot a little more than two years ago.
“I had a brand and had built up a lot of goodwill, and to leave that and go into a brand new industry and come to Atlanta where I had no ties has been a wonderful learning experience,” he said. “I have become much more vulnerable and learned to lean on my team.”
For Jones, the smart, calculated professional risk meant taking a two-year term position as deputy regional counsel at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. that, while temporary, gave him the experience he needed to advance his career. Six months later, Jones’ supervisor left, and Jones was named acting regional counsel at the financial agency.
“That allowed me to hit all the boxes,” he said. “Taking that chance put me in a position to compete for a job that was sort of a dream job for a banking attorney.”
And for Reddy, the smart career risk that paid off was taking a leave of absence from his Big Law job at age 30 to run for statewide office—a position he didn’t get but a move that led him to a gig with the Obama administration as the regional administrator of the federal General Services Administration.
“I pursued various initiatives because I thought they were the right things to do at the right time,” said Reddy, adding that, although he didn’t know it at the time, people were watching him and observing his career trajectory.
“When someone says do something, I always say yes, and I try and pay it forward. Risk-taking is really important for one’s development, and it also puts you in a position where folks who are watching could potentially open up a door for you.”
In addition to risk-taking, the panelists also discussed the professional importance of:
- Developing bilateral mentorships;
- Asking for specific feedback;
- Women having males within their organization to advocate for them;
- Building a personal brand; and
- Maintaining relationships outside the company’s legal department.
Contact reporter Kristen Rasmussen at firstname.lastname@example.org