Jill Marchant on Taking Risks in a Legal Career
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Here are some highlights of my interview with Jill Marchant:
I see a General Counsel’s job as observation and listening, relationship building, acquiring business knowledge and cultural knowledge.
It’s important to align with the business and be declarative about how you’re structured so that business partners can see where they fit into your work.
When you take on the leader role, it’s no longer about you, but about basking in the glow of the success of the people you lead.
If you’re willing and you have the support system, there can be great rewards in taking risks.
So often as young professionals, we’re looking externally for what success looks like. That’s something you have to define for yourself.
Do not be afraid to take assignments that might feel like a step back because every opportunity is a learning experience that will prepare you for the next one.
I encourage women to reach out to those that have achieved something they want and find out how they did it.
All feedback doesn’t feel good, but all feedback is good.
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Greetings friends, this is Chris Batz, your host of the Law Firm Leadership podcast. Kicking off season two, again, in today’s episode I spoke with a general counsel who has an inspiring, risk-taking story where she shares insights about being fearless and confident when life comes at you with career choices and opportunities. You won’t want to miss this.
Just a reminder, the PDF transcript of this audio is available to download. Go to LionGroupRecruiting.com/podcast.
As many of you know, we interview corporate defense, law firm leaders, partners, general counsel, and legal consultants. You are listening to episode thirty-two of the Law Firm Leadership podcast.
Chris: Welcome to the Law Firm Leadership podcast. I’m your host, Chris Batz with the Lion Group. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Jill Marchant, chief legal officer of Hallmark Cards. Jill joined the corporate officers of Hallmark as general counsel and secretary during January 2018. After law school, she started a career at Morrison & Foerster for a couple of years in California and then moved to Kansas City and made the leap in-house first with Honeywell, then Applebee’s and then DineEquity, which is now the parent of Applebee’s. Then found herself in Louisville, Kentucky as general counsel for Texas Roadhouse, then Farm Credit Mid-America. Now, back in Kansas City as the chief legal officer to one of Kansas City’s largest employers. Jill received her bachelor’s and law degree from Brigham Young University. Welcome, Jill to the Law Firm Leadership podcast. It’s great to have you on the show.
Jill: It’s great to be here Chris. I’ve had a wonderful career in the law so far and if talking about it is of interest to your listeners, then all the better.
Her Dream Job
Chris: Jill, tell us about why you moved back to Kansas City and chose to work at Hallmark?
Jill: We don’t have enough time to talk about why Hallmark because I have been a brand fan for many years. When I received a call about an opportunity to come back to Kansas City and be at Hallmark, it was the dream job. To work for a company that gives the world so much of what it needs right now and has such an interesting portfolio of businesses and legal work while being in the city that my children and family would call home, it just seemed like a dream come true.
Chris: How would you explain Hallmark as a company?
Jill: We have a portfolio of businesses, some that are more familiar to people and some that people can forget. We have our greetings business. That’s where we sell our greeting cards, gift wrap, and related products. We do that in more than 30 languages in nearly 100 countries and 100,000 rooftops worldwide. We also have about 2,000 Hallmark Gold Crown stores in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Those have our greeting cards, gifts, and gift packaging.
The company also owns Crayola, another iconic brand that works to provide art materials and creative play toys in markets all over the world. The company also owns Crown Media Family Networks, the Hallmark Channel, if you will, and two other cable channels as well as a streaming service that offers – what we call at our house – a little bit of happy. Then, finally, Kansas Citians will be familiar with Crown Center, which is our real estate development. We manage an 85-acre hotel off of the entertainment and residential complex. Our headquarters is here. We lease office space. We have the fabulous offerings at the Crown Center shops. It’s really a diverse portfolio of businesses, which makes the legal work so exciting and interesting.
Chris: How do you approach taking the reins of a 30-plus legal team?
Jill: I see a General Counsel’s job as first observation and listening, relationship building, acquiring business knowledge and cultural knowledge. Then, it’s figuring out what skill sets and knowledge base we need to drive the short-term and long-term strategies of the business. Then, knowing what legal support we should be purchasing on the outside that doesn’t occur often enough to justify it being in-house. Then, it’s understanding where the business is going and what we need to support that business.
One of the things I do when I’m new to an environment is to keep a list off to the side of things I observe that might need attention, change or evolution. It’s about refinement and evolution. I keep that list during the observation and listening period and then come back to it. Sometimes, as you come in and see things, you think those need adjustments. After 6-9 months, you look at your list and realize, “Ah, I get why we do that.” That’s why I think that the observation period becomes really important.
When you look back at the list, some things will still be there that may need your attention. Things like good process in the legal division, good technology, mobile enablement, or making it easy for your people to work whenever and wherever they are. Things like developing people and helping them build, not only the skillsets they need but the networks and relationships that they need to help move the company forward.
I’m putting my focus on individual and team development. This includes career pathing, external and internal development opportunities, process improvements, and technology enhancements. The goal is to modernize a bit, but also have our structure aligned to the business, so our business partners know who their resources are and where to go.
Chris: Many legal departments tend to be like a captive law firm within a corporation, but you’re moving toward a model that’s more integrated into the business. Is that correct?
Jill: It’s important to align with the business and be declarative about how you’re structured so that business partners can see where they fit into your work and that you are there to enable what they’re trying to accomplish. We’re a service organization and we are a business partner and we should be advocates for the business. To do that best, we have to be organized in such a way that the business can see how we align to what they’re doing.
Chris: Tell my listeners a little bit about the new CEO at Hallmark and how that’s affected the company for the better.
Jill: We’re really fortunate to have Mike Perry step into the role of president and CEO at Hallmark. What I love most about Mike is that he has 30 years with the company and has spent time managing and leading significant portions of our business. But what’s really special about Mike is even though he is a long-tenured Hallmarker, he has this uncanny ability to see things in new and different ways. He knows the brand, the business, the people and the culture. He has a vision for the future and how we have to evolve as a business to stay competitive, but also to make sure we’re in all the places that we need to be to deliver our goods and services.
Chris: Jill, what does leadership mean to you?
Jill: When I hear the term leadership, I think about a really special mentor in my career, who before I left to take my first general counsel position took me to lunch. She gave me a book called The Servant Leader by James Autry. I read the book and loved the things that it had to say about what a leader really is. When you’re an individual contributor, you’re constantly working to prove your worth, achieve your results, make a splash and achieve. When you take on the leader role, it’s no longer about you. It’s really about basking in the glow of the success of the people you lead and being there to enable their success, to develop them, to champion them, to give the credit away and to be there for them, to break down barriers, to make sure they’re properly resourced, to do all those things that help them be successful. That’s a huge transition.
The Transition from Private Practice to In-House
Chris: Can you share with my audience the transition from private practice to in-house?
Jill: I was really excited to start my career in the big city at the Los Angeles office of a big international firm that was and still is a very forward-thinking firm. I was enjoying my time there, but when I unexpectedly had my daughter, my priorities started to change. I think the bright lights and the rat race of the big city grew less appealing. I wanted to have opportunities to continue to develop my career and to spend time being a mom, so my husband and I packed up everything we owned, put it all in a U-Haul and drove to the Midwest.
I got to Kansas City and canvassed the employment landscape in the legal profession here. I was really fortunate that my resume landed on the pile of resumes at a division of Honeywell that’s here in town and that was my journey to in-house work. That role with Honeywell was really unusual in that it was an in-house role, but we functioned very much like a small law firm, so I was actually able to cut my teeth on big litigation and handle cases myself, take depositions, write briefs, and give an oral argument. It was a really great way to develop as a litigator and an employment lawyer.
My career, as a whole, is a portrait in risk-taking. If you’re willing and you have the support system, there can be great rewards at the end of those risks.
Chris: Were you pregnant when you were applying for those roles or is this post your first child?
Jill: Post my first child. I was actually pregnant when I was studying for and taking the California bar exam. With passing it the first time, I will never relinquish my membership in the California bar even if I never set foot in the state of California. That was one of my greatest professional accomplishments given my physical condition at the time.
Chris: Share with my listeners your journey with the various roles you’ve held.
Jill: I left a really great firm in LA. I had people applauding me on my way out the door. I had partners who had mentored me who said “You’ve got everything you need in your toolkit. You’ll be fine.” I landed the job at Honeywell and stayed there for 12 years. I was working for a very talented and special general counsel at the time, who was also a great mentor of mine, but he wasn’t going anywhere. If I wanted to rise in the organization, I would have to leave the city or leave Honeywell.
Fortunately, I had connections in the local legal community that led to an intriguing phone call about doing something wildly different and going into the restaurant industry. To go from a stable long-tenured engineering workforce that supported the nuclear weapons complex to the high-turnover, low-tenure, fast-pace of the restaurant industry was a really exciting switch. The business issues, legal issues, and legal risks are different. It was a great way to stretch myself and learn to do something new and different that would be invigorating, exciting and intellectually stimulating. That’s how I found my way to Applebee’s.
Applebee’s and IHOP merged under the parent company, DineEquity. As happens in many mergers or consolidations, those can be challenging times for people, but they can present opportunities. For me, it was an opportunity to enlarge my scope of responsibility and my circle of business relationships. I was able to take on more leadership opportunities and had a larger docket of employment matters and litigation matters. That was an exciting and tumultuous time. It creates great work for lawyers where you can learn more about subjects from the legal matters to leadership, culture and how you integrate cultures when they come together.
While I was working at DineEquity, I was told about an opportunity at Texas Roadhouse where I could step up for the first time as a General Counsel. One of my professional goals was to be a general counsel of a public company before I turned 50 so that was the achievement of that goal. Ironically, sometimes what we think might be our dream job is not really that dreamy. For me, it wasn’t the best fit. It was a great learning experience, but I was very open to other opportunities and wanted to stay in Louisville.
At about the time that I was wrestling with whether Texas Roadhouse was the right place for me, I was approached by Farm Credit Mid-America. Again, a totally different industry. This is a large agricultural finance cooperative, with a $22 billion portfolio in a network of entities that serve rural communities and agriculture. I thought, “Wow, what a great way to enhance my financial acumen and to learn more about how our food comes to be,” and my husband and I were farmer wannabes.
That was just a great experience. I don’t think it’s an experience I would have interrupted except for the call asking about my interest in coming back to Kansas City in the legal role at Hallmark. As I said in the opening of this conversation, it was the perfect combination for me to be with a brand and business that I adore and to be at home in Kansas.
Define Success for You
Chris: Reflecting on your career so far, what are some takeaways from your journey?
Jill: There are some key things to learn from my career path. The first would be the importance of defining success for yourself. So often as young professionals and as young women, we’re looking externally for what success looks like. That’s something you really have to define for yourself. Success can look all kinds of different ways for different people.
Once you’ve done that, it’s important to take a pretty frequent inventory of what you’re doing and whether it aligns with your goals and values. Are you doing things that reflect what’s important to you in achieving those goals and objectives?
Be willing to take risks. My career is just peppered with risk-taking. There are security and a definition of success that can come with being in a very stable environment and staying in one company for a long time. That is one definition of success. But if you like the twisty/turny path, which I must, then you have to be willing to take risks, move outside of the organization or stretch yourself in new and different ways.
There is a concept I’m a big fan of from reading Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. It’s this idea that our career is not a ladder. When you’re on a ladder, it’s narrow, straight, and there’s always someone ahead of you. To get off you have to jump off or fall off and to get ahead, the person ahead of you has to move. The idea is that our careers are really jungle gyms. There’s more than one way to get to the top. Do not be afraid to take assignments that might be different or lateral or feel like a step back because every opportunity is a learning experience that will prepare you for the next one. There are so many different ways to enjoy a stimulating career in the law. It’s that jungle gym concept that I like people to embrace because the ladder can feel so confining, frustrating and discouraging at times.
Advice for Female Attorneys
Chris: Jill, would you speak to the women audience and the challenges that they face and as they look to someone like you.
Jill: The elephant in the room when we’re talking about women and women’s career development is always this concept of motherhood and how you blend the desire to be successful professionally with the desire to be successful emotionally as a wife and mother.
I encourage women to reach out to women that they view as having achieved something that they want and find out how they did it. I talk to young women about this notion of a support system and that there are different roles in your support system. It’s nice to have people that you admire as role models and those are people that you can listen to or read about or study or observe. They’re not necessarily people you have to come in contact with. Have those role models, but then bring it closer to home with people that you can meet with who help you solve problems and hold you accountable for achieving your goals and objectives.
You also need a network of people who are professional peers with whom you have a shared experience and who can relate to you. You can share tools, resources, ideas and solutions on a professional level. The last element in your support system is shoulders. You need safe places to vent, to cry, to relate and that really tight inner circle that’s a safe place to emote and to be raw because I don’t suggest mixing those roles together. I don’t think your mentor is someone to whom you want to vent and cry and emote. I often challenge young women to literally write those categories down and put at least one or two names under each category because it does take a village.
Family Values and Calling Kansas City Home
Chris: Jill, tell us a little bit about your love for land and horses.
Jill: My husband and I are both products of the suburbs, but we always yearned for wide-open spaces. When we were living in Kansas City the first time, our oldest daughter came home from and told us she needed a Blackberry. I don’t think she knew what it was, but she knew she needed it. We thought about this and decided to move to where there’s less pressure to have all the things of the world. We wanted to do something that would bring our family together and get our kids outdoors, getting dirty, doing chores. We moved to Louisburg, where our kids could see kids that were like them. These kids were going to stay and run the family business, some kids would go to college, maybe others wouldn’t, and some would stay and be on the family farm.
We bought horses. It just really became a time of bonding and closeness for our family. But when we came back to Kansas City, it was an opportunity as empty nesters. I put a pin in Hallmark and I drew a circle and I said, “This is how far I’m willing to commute.” I now enjoy a four-minute commute each way, every day, which I love. 64108 is our zip code. We love being part of Kansas City. Our city is thriving and we’re just really excited to be part of it and to see how we can give back to it now that we have a little extra time to do that.
Chris: What has changed, Jill, knowing who Kansas City was back in the 90s and 2000s and who we are now as a city?
Jill: Kansas City has always had a great feel with different things like the traditions of great steak or barbecue, sports and rodeo, but the city that we left is definitely not the city we came home to. It’s been so exciting to see all of the things that are happening downtown with development and growth. There is a cultural expansion with things that are happening now at Union Station, Sprint Center and the Kauffman Center, which is just a jewel in this city. To me, one of the key signs that the city was going through a rebirth was taking my oldest daughter to buy her wedding dress in a downtown bridal shop.
You see people coming back to the city and it’s really terrific. You see people wanting to give, engage and help nurture our city. We’re at a really exciting time with the new mayor. We are just super pleased to be back in Kansas City and we’ll try to make our own contribution to this city.
The Power of Feedback
Chris: Jill, who are your heroes in life that helped to get you to where you are today?
Jill: I may be rare in that the people that I would call my heroes and my mentors were also my bosses. From Larry Piceman at Morrison & Foerster to Dave Sasinski at Honeywell, Becky Tilden at Applebee’s, Scott Colosi at Texas Roadhouse, Bill Johnson at Farm Credit Mid-America. I’ve been really fortunate to have model leaders and bosses who took the time to develop me. That’s not always just getting a pat on the back and a positive performance review. That can be getting some tough feedback, coaching, listening, course correcting, challenging, and stretching.
I am really fortunate that some of the people who have been my heroes have been the people who were bold in their feedback and guidance along with the support, encouragement and recognition. It’s the whole thing that you need from a leader; it’s not just one or the other.
Chris: What is the kindest thing someone has ever done for you?
Jill: A pivotal point in my career was when a boss and mentor, now a friend, gave me some tough but important feedback with his heart on his sleeve and with the interest of helping me be better. As a young lawyer, I wanted to prove that I was smart and that I had all this to offer and I wasn’t focused on building relationships, partnering and collaborating. He sat me down and just talked me through it and gave me some tough feedback.
People say, “What’s that one golden piece of advice you give everybody?” and it’s to be a consumer of feedback. All feedback doesn’t feel good, but all feedback is good. It’s important to know how others perceive you because their perception is their reality. It was a tough conversation for him because he was a relatively new leader. That was a turning point in my career. That candid feedback delivered with positive intent and a warm heart and real caring was the most pivotal point in my career. It guided me to change the way I thought about the work I was doing, the way I engaged with my business partners and really changed the course for how I thought about my role for the rest of my career. Professionally, that was one of the toughest, but truly one of the kindest things I’ve experienced that influenced the fact that I can be sitting here in the role I have.
Chris: Jill, it’s been an honor and a pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you for your time today.
Jill: Thanks so much for having me. I’ve enjoyed the chance to reflect and pause and I appreciate it.
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