An Admired Leader: Robbie E.B. Narcisse
Robbie E. B. Narcisse, deputy general counsel for Pitney Bowes Inc., an integrated mail and document management solutions provider, reveals that the road to success wasn’t without some tribulations.
“One time I remember when I walked into the courtroom with the opposing attorney’s law firm, I was asked if I was the court reporter,” Narcisse said.
Early in her career, Narcisse, an African- American, often felt that her opinion was slighted because of who she was. It still isn’t unusual for her to be the only woman or person of color in a negotiation room full of white males.
“I find that frustrating,” she said of the small number of women and minorities in the profession, “but I deal with it the best I can.”
For Narcisse, that means making a personal effort to bring diversity to the legal profession generally speaking, and to the in-house legal environment in particular.
“As an African-American, I can lead by example. It’s important that companies walk the talk and that its representatives do the same. I also serve as a volunteer on boards or committees sponsoring activities on diversity issues, and I try to retain work for minority counsel.”
That example was missing for Narcisse, who had no intention of becoming a lawyer while growing up in Arizona.
“I didn’t see many lawyers; just a lot of deserts. I didn’t have a good idea about law as a career choice or what you could do as a lawyer.”
Neither did she see many persons of color, nor women in professional positions. But that didn’t stop her, Narcisse said, because of the encouragement of her parents-her mother, a teacher; and her father, a military man.
“They instilled in me that I could do whatever I wanted,” she said. “They set high standards.”
As a sociology-psychology major at Stanford, Narcisse became impressed by the power of the law to do good for society, and it led her to the Boalt Hall School of Law at Berkeley. Her first position after graduation was in the litigation department of Weil, Gotshal, and Manges, where she worked both in and outside the courtroom. She said it was a good experience, but she wanted more exposure to the clients’ view of the world. This led her to Pitney Bowes, where she was given freedom to solve problems as she saw fit.
“It was a wonderful opportunity for me,” she said. “The general counsel was new at the time and had great ideas about how to improve the company, which gave us more of a cutting edge in using the law for a competitive advantage.”
Today, as deputy general counsel, she is responsible for the corporate legal department and oversees eight attorneys, who advise on matters related to the company’s core business, global mailing systems. She sees more companies becoming like Pitney Bowes, which long has been dedicated to promoting diversity.
Narcisse, who also sits on the board of directors of MCCA®, is happy with the progress of her career. Her goal is to continue to practice law to do good, the concept that originally led her to law. Ethics, she believes, is crucial for maintaining a successful business. She hopes this philosophy will eventually lead her to a position as a general counsel.
“These are exciting times for attorneys of color to break open even more doors than our predecessors,” Narcisse said.
Tom Calarco is a freelance writer from Schenectady, N.Y. His book The Outpost to Freedom, a History of the Underground Railroad in Upstate New York, is set for publication in 2003.
From the January/February 2003 issue of Diversity & The Bar®