Best of the best: rising star
Judges in the inaugural Corporate Secretary Magazine Awards set out to identify the best newcomer to a governance or compliance role. There were many outstanding candidates, and the ultimate decision was a difficult one, leading the panel to choose joint winners — Douglas Chia, senior counsel and assistant corporate secretary at Johnson & Johnson, and Laura Lonsdale, ombudsman at Tyco International.
Honorable mentions for the award sponsored by TMF went to CA’s Alan Srulowitz, Freescale’s Larry Parsons and MHI Hospitality’s Julia Farr Connolly.
Chia and Lonsdale excelled in relatively short periods in key positions and with strong mentors. Neither had set out for the compliance field when in law school, but they were tapped for the roles. ‘I didn’t even know such a job existed when I was in law school,’ says Chia, who has a JD from Georgetown. ‘I went to law school wanting to be a prosecutor of white-collar criminals.’
Like many in compliance, both winners got their grounding in demanding jobs at major law firms. From 1997 to 2004, Chia worked both in Hong Kong and New York for Clifford Chance and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett handling securities offerings and cross-border deals. Lonsdale did a stint on the corporate law team of Gunderson Dettmer. (She will be featured in depth in additional awards coverage in the February edition of the magazine.)
Though Chia says he and his wife loved living in Hong Kong, he grew bored of the work and decided to go in house to Tyco, in the aftermath of its accounting and governance failures, where he focused on rebuilding the governance and compliance structures as an assistant general counsel. After two years there, he moved to Johnson & Johnson where his set of responsibilities includes corporate governance, securities regulation, public company disclosure and Sarbanes-Oxley compliance.
Since then, Chia has become a familiar figure on industry panels and corporate law working groups, and made a mark with his perceptive, lively and often funny input. ‘Doug is energetic, insightful and has a real passion for finding solutions, as opposed to lamenting problems,’ says Susan Ellen Wolf, corporate secretary and vice president-corporate governance and associate general counsel at Schering-Plough.
It is clear the compliance role fits him, and he is even encouraging others in this somewhat obscure career path. ‘I definitely tell law students and younger law firm associates to think about corporate governance as a specialty and the corporate secretarial practice as a career path,’ he says. ‘I especially encourage members of minority groups to consider the corporate secretarial career path as it’s one way to distinguish yourself from other corporate lawyers and it has become a real growth area for corporate law departments.’
He has become a bit of an organizer in the New Jersey corporate law community, and beyond. Some of this work includes organizing experts locally to update lawyers on new issues, filing comment letters to the SEC on industry issues, working with Broadridge to address flaws in e-proxy delivery, and participating in investor forums on ‘say on pay’.
This is a mantle he says he inherited from Mike Ullmann, Johnson & Johnson’s former corporate
secretary who hired him. ‘He was really the one who introduced me to the broader corporate secretary community and encouraged me to get involved,’ Chia says. ‘From there, the networking, organizing and speaking came pretty naturally to me since those are the kinds of activities I have always gravitated to since my days as a student.’
In his undergraduate days at Dartmouth, Chia was both junior and senior class president, and says he enjoyed student assembly, serving on committees with deans and professors, and representing students to the board of trustees. ‘The lessons I learned and the skills I developed through those activities proved to be invaluable when I eventually entered the workforce years later,’ he says.
Chia is a member of both the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) and the Society of Corporate Secretaries & Governance Professionals (SCSGP), getting different things out of both. ‘The ACC exposes me to the broader practice of a general counsel or corporate generalist, while the Society focuses me on the corporate governance and securities practice in a way that the ACC is not able to,’ he says. ‘The two memberships have complemented each other very well and I highly recommend both organizations to my counterparts.’
The lawyer says he looks for role models in those he meets through his association with the SCSGP, particularly practical consensus-builders. ‘On a more general level, the public figures that I look to as role models would include Colin Powell and Barack Obama, again for the way they carry themselves in extreme pressure situations and try to focus on practical solutions over political ones,’ he says. ‘On a personal level, any father who is able to raise good-natured, well-adjusted and intellectually curious kids is a role model in my mind. I’ve got four of my own (twins age 5 and twins age 1), and am trying the best I can.’
Anyone who has seen the list of responsibilities of those in compliance-oriented jobs knows they are pressure-filled. Chia says he is deeply reliant on Johnson & Johnson’s corporate secretary, Steve Rosenberg, and the team of professionals in the office of the corporate secretary, Linda Piscadlo, Linda King, Laura Giacino and Cathy Skurka. ‘I’d be lost and floundering around without them,’ he says.