Maria M. Leggett: Her Golden Moment
With its iconic golden arches, McDonald’s Corporation is the leading global foodservice retailer, with more than 31,000 local restaurants serving more than 52 million people in 118 countries each day. Maria M. Leggett is general counsel of Latin America and Canada for the instantly recognizable international giant.
“No two work days are alike for me,” explains Leggett, whose responsibilities cover all of McDonald’s legal matters for Canada as well as Latin America’s 28 countries. “One hour, I’m re-imaging a restaurant on a busy thoroughfare in downtown Sao Paulo, and the next I’m overseeing matters of supply chain. My work touches every facet of our restaurant business, including our bread-and-butter areas of franchising and real estate, supply chain, marketing, operations, corporate reorganizations, and mergers. No doubt, many countries in Latin America have had their share of political strife and devaluation issues, and as such, companies do their utmost to succeed and rise above it all. Regardless of the political and economic environments, my foremost responsibility is protecting the McDonald’s brand.”
Prior to joining McDonald’s in 1999, Leggett was senior counsel at Ryder System, Inc., a worldwide transportation and logistics company located in Miami, Fla. At Ryder, she counseled the company’s vehicle maintenance and school bus divisions. Since entering the legal profession, Leggett has encountered many opportunities for women and minorities, particularly at McDonald’s, an enormous corporation that strives to celebrate diversity with various employee networks such as its Women’s Leadership Network.
Today, the married mother of three young children mentors other women of all ages and backgrounds. “In my travels over the years, many colleagues have approached me seeking mentoring support on an ad hoc basis,” says Leggett. “I’ve remained in touch with many of them, and as I visit the markets, we catch up. My door is always open to them. And even though it’s not a formal mentoring program, I have seen many positive differences, which have been both professionally and personally rewarding for them and for me.”
A first-generation American, Leggetts’ parents immigrated to the United States from Cuba in the early 1950s. A respect for education and educators was emphasized in the home. Leggett strongly identified with the religious women who taught her throughout her years at parochial school, along with the professors at Florida’s Barry University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in finance. After briefly considering a religious teaching vocation, Leggett opted instead to pursue a career in law and graduated from Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad Law Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1993.
These days, Leggett spends most of her time in the field, traveling throughout Latin America and Canada. Fluent in Spanish and conversational in Portuguese, she is comfortable working with multiple cultures, languages, and economies and is not in the least thrown by rapidly changing situations: “When my plane lands in Sao Paulo, Brazil at dawn, I’m off and running to sift through myriad complex and delicate situations with patience, reason, and a little luck,” says Leggett. “It’s up to me to support the brand from my corner of the world and that can’t always be done sitting behind a desk.”
Addressing copyright and trademark infringement is an ongoing priority for McDonald’s, according to the South Florida-based Leggett. The corporation that has brought the world enduring edible and audible fast-food hits like the “Big Mac” and “You Deserve a Break Today” employs a team of lawyers and paralegals at its headquarters in Oak Brook, ILL., to ensure that competitors are not stealing tag lines or pilfering recipes. Specialized lawyers in the field also help to enforce trademark in countries where McDonald’s currently operates—and even in locales where the corporation has yet to open restaurants, because, says Leggett, you never know when you’re going to see copycat Golden Arches popping up someplace new. DB
Patrick Folliard is a freelance writer based in Silver Spring, Md.
From the May/June 2007 issue of Diversity & The Bar®