MCCA® 2010 Survey of Fortune 500 Women General Counsel
Last year began with the economy in a trough; many major U.S. corporations were either bailed out or taken over by the federal government, and the housing market was in the midst of one of the most brutal slumps in American history. Although recovery is now well under way, improvement has been slow and halting, with unemployment inching up toward 10% and housing starts still lagging. Consumer spending finally edged up over the course of 2009, but many people remained too concerned about their jobs and mortgages to open their wallets enough to jump-start the sort of roaring economic comeback that Americans seemingly have come to expect as a natural part of the business cycle.1
If the “jobless recovery” has been relatively feeble for Main Street, the opposite appears to be true for the companies on this year’s Fortune 500 list. The same job cuts that have so worried many Americans have helped create a massive uptick in profits for the country’s largest companies. Their earnings increased a breathtaking 335% to $391 billion, an increase of $301 billion on the year before—the second-biggest such increase in the history of the Fortune 500.2 After the delirious “bubble” years of 2006 – 07 and the epic collapse of 2008, this massive earnings increase in 2009 returned Fortune 500 profits to their “normal” level.
Despite this turnaround, the Fortune 500 list has undergone considerable change, reflecting the massive alteration of corporate America caused by the roller-coaster ride of the last few years. Depressed housing starts have banished home-building companies from the list, from fourteen in 2007 to none this year. Other sectors also faced a dramatic downturn. Oil, pipeline, and energy companies were hit hard by the drop in commodity prices. Six companies in that sector fell out of the Fortune 500, and Exxon Mobil was dethroned as the top revenue company by Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Massive upheaval in the auto industry sent General Motors, now property of the American people, tumbling out of the top ten for the first time in the history of the Fortune 500 list.
If home building companies couldn’t make a comeback from a disastrous 2008, financial services companies could—and did. As banks got past the write-downs on toxic securities, profits from their investment-banking activities spurred a titanic turnaround for the industry. Losses of $8.7 billion the year before turned into profits of $38 billion, with J.P. Morgan performing particularly well.
Nevertheless, banks were not the biggest stars of this year’s Fortune 500 list. Traditional powerhouses now struggling in the new economic reality were replaced on the list by more recession-resistant companies in the burgeoning healthcare sector. Earnings in this area soared to a new high of $92 billion, a close second-place finish behind the tech industry. This is good news for the women who run the legal offices at companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb (Sandra Leung), Pfizer (Amy Schulman), DaVita (Kim Rivera), and St. Jude Medical (Pamela Krop).
This year, ninety-four women served as top legal officers in Fortune 500 companies, an increase of nine from the previous survey. The 2010 roster consists of eighty-two white/Caucasians (non-Hispanic), seven African Americans, three Hispanics, and two Asian Pacific Americans. Last year’s list included seventy-five white/Caucasians, six African Americans, two Hispanics, and one Asian Pacific American. This year’s increase in the total number of women GCs at the nation’s 500 largest companies reverses the decrease reported last year, a welcome sign that as the economy and corporate profits recover, women are increasingly taking the lead in the nation’s top companies.
These legal leaders guide the legal offices of companies throughout the continental United States, but four states dominate, representing more than 40% percent of this year’s list. Leading the way is California, hosting fourteen companies with women general counsel, an increase of five from the previous year. New York is second with ten, a decrease of one, and Texas is third with nine, up one. Illinois dropped from nine companies with women general counsel last year to seven this year—a number that nevertheless is good enough for fourth-best among all U.S. states.
In the 2009 survey, twenty-one of the eighty-five companies with women GCs posted losses. That measure improved in this year’s survey, with only eighteen of the ninety-four corporations posting a loss. Those companies were, from largest to smallest in revenue: Valero Energy, Sunoco, HealthNet, Continental Airlines, Office Depot, Liberty Global, R.R. Donnelly & Sons, Lincoln National, Bank of New York Mellon Corp., Masco, Eastman Kodak, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Avery Dennison, SunGard Data Systems, NCR, Agilent Technologies, Con-Way, and Host Hotels & Resorts.
The vast majority of companies in the list with women general counsel posted revenues between $5 billion and $25 billion (62 of the 94 companies), but that number is down from last year’s 67. Also, 17 companies with women GCs had revenues of at least $25 billion, up 4 from last year, an indication that women are gaining ground at the top of the Fortune 500. Fifteen companies on the list worth less than $5 billion were represented by women general counsel, an increase of one from the previous year. Encouragingly, 49 women led the legal departments of the top 250 companies, an increase of 8 from last year.
Women led the legal departments of some of the best-performing companies in the Fortune 500. For example, Deborah Platt Majoras saw her company, Procter & Gamble, rank fourth among Fortune’s list of most-profitable companies; Goldman Sachs, where Esta Stecher is co-general counsel, was the sixth most-profitable company; Bristol-Myers Squibb, where Sandra Leung is general counsel, was the thirteenth most-profitable company; Pfizer, where Amy Schulman is general counsel, was the fifteenth most-profitable company.
In addition, 12 of the 49 fastest-growing companies last year have women as general counsel: Goldman Sachs (3), Cigna (5), CH2M Hill (8), NiSource (10), St. Jude Medical (22), Bristol-Myers Squibb (23), PNC Financial Services Group (27), Washington Post (41), TJX (43), CA (46), Amazon.com (48), and Sealed Air (49). Clearly, women are an important part of the leadership of some of America’s most vital and robust companies.
FORTUNE 500 DEPARTURES
At Health Net (146 on the list this year), general counsel Linda Tiano left to become president of regional health plans for Health Net of the Northeast, Inc., on December 14, 2009;3 she was replaced by another woman, Angelee Bouchard. At Baxter International (185 on the list this year), a healthcare company, general counsel Susan Lichtenstein left the company in September 2009,4 moving on to become senior vice president of corporate affairs and chief legal officer of Hill-Rom in May 2010. Hill-Rom is an Indiana-based medical equipment firm headed by a former Baxter International, Inc. executive. Ms. Lichtenstein previously held the post of general counsel at Ameritech Corp. and Tellabs Inc.5
Fourteen companies either re-entered the list or moved on to it for the first time.
In addition to the seventy-three white/Caucasian women in this list, the Fortune 1000 roster of women GCs include six African Americans, one Asian Pacific American, and one Hispanic woman. Frontier Communications (794) and Polaris (991) replaced a woman general counsel with another woman, while Teradata (932) replaced a white male with a white female GC. Progress is already being made in 2010; Pentair (693), a manufacturer of water filters, pump systems and pool accessories, hired Angela D. Lageson to replace a man as general counsel.
Although larger states continue to be the best represented by companies with women general counsel, the second half of the Fortune 1000 list appears to be more geographically diverse than the top half of the list. New York leads the way among the Fortune 1000 companies with women GCs, serving as home to ten corporations. Ohio came in second with nine, while California is host to seven companies. Six companies with women general counsel are located in New Jersey.
MCCA thanks freelance writer Thomas Threlkeld for all of his work in the preparation of this article, analysis of the survey results, and related research; Frost Burnett Telegadas for completing the extensive and time-consuming survey of 1,000 companies to compile data on race/ethnicity and gender of their general counsel; and Patrick Folliard for authoring the profiles of the women general counsel featured in this article.
1 Shawn Tully, Fortune 500: Profits bounce back, Fortune, April 15, 2010, available at money.cnn.com/2010/04/13/news/companies/fortune_500_profits.fortune/index.htm (visited June 18, 2010).
3 Executive Profile: Linda Tiano, Esq., Bloomberg Businessweek.
4 Ameet Sachdev, Chicago Law: Baxter general counsel leaving, deputy promoted, Chicago Law, Chicago Tribune, September 1, 2009, available at newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/chicago-law/2009/09/baxter-general-counsel-leaving.html (visited June 18, 2010).
5 Steven Strahler and Mike Colias, Hill-Rom hires Baxter vets, plans local office, Chicago Business, April 7, 2010, available at www.chicagobusiness.com/cgi-bin/news.pl?id=37723 (visited June 18, 2010).
6 In this article, the term “Fortune 1000” refers to companies ranked among Fortune’s 501-1000 companies.
From the July August 2010 issue of Diversity & The Bar®