Cover Story

Return to July/August 2008 issue of Diversity & The Bar®:  Fortune 500 Women General Counsel


Cover Story

Margaret M. Foran
Sara Lee Corporation
Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary

Margaret (Peggy) Foran will remember the summer of 2008 as a time of change, as she departs Pfizer Inc. after 11 years. In July, she joins Sara Lee Corporation—the global manufacturer and marketer of brand-name products including Ball Park, Hillshire Farm, Jimmy Dean, and, of course, its namesake Sara Lee—as executive vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary.

“Sara Lee is a great company with great leaders,” says Foran. “I’m especially eager to work with CEO Brenda Barnes and all of the great people at Sara Lee, and to get to know the business. Learning the company is a challenge that I enjoy, but I also like applying the patterns that I’ve seen in other companies and past work I’ve done.”

Until very recently, Foran was senior vice president, associate general counsel, and corporate secretary of Pfizer, Inc. During her decade in the multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical company’s New York office, Foran gained a great deal of knowledge about not only the business, but also related public policy and the political and activist environments surrounding the industry.

“These days you hear a lot about the bad things that drug companies do,” Foran says, “but I experienced firsthand how Pfizer employees were trying to improve the quality of life for others, so one of the ongoing challenges of my job was to make these positive acts known.”

Foran was initially drawn to the law by a sense of justice—she believed in leveling the playing field for society’s more vulnerable members. “I never envisioned myself winding up at Fortune 500 companies like Pfizer and Sara Lee,” she says; however, as a law student at Notre Dame, Foran remembers being unexpectedly entranced by a corporation law class. Tax and securities rendered her equally rapt.

In the early days of her career, Foran perceived more challenges for women attorneys than she does now. “When I tell my daughters how it used to be, they look at me in disbelief, the way I once looked at my father when he talked about walking five miles to school in three feet of snow,” says Foran. “Servicing the client and getting the work done are still important, but today we have greater flexibility for juggling work and personal obligations.”

Along with a quick chronological recap of her professional history—private practice, J.P. Morgan & Co., ITT Corp., Pfizer, and now Sara Lee—Foran serves up an amusing memory tool: “First I was into money, then gambling, followed by drugs, and now my parents are delighted that I’m going into an industry with tasty baked goods,” she jokes, before adding, “I’ve truly worked in many industries and there are lot of parallels among the companies where I’ve worked, and now I’m able to use that experience at Sara Lee.”

This is a busy and exciting time for Foran. While she has put in time scouring 10Ks, proxies, and analyst reports, she is convinced that the only way to really know a company is through its people—“those who drive the company, clients, customers, and suppliers. By meeting them, I’m learning what Sara Lee is all about.”  DB

Return to Fortune 500 Women General Counsel

From the July/August 2008 issue of  Diversity & The Bar®

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