I have always been a big believer that embracing diversity and inclusion can enhance both our professional and personal lives. Throughout my life I have been positively influenced by important people who come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. While these individuals have helped me become a better lawyer and leader, they have also made me a better person. Here are some of their stories and how they have impacted me.
My father grew up in the South Bronx after my grandparents migrated to New York City from Puerto Rico. Being Hispanic, my father was subject to discrimination because of his ethnicity – especially at school where he was treated differently by his classmates, teachers and administrators. He then served in the US Army during the height of the Vietnam War. Although he rarely talked about his service in Vietnam, my father was a highly decorated veteran.
Like many Vietnam veterans who fought for their country during a divisive war, my father also faced discrimination when he returned home. When my father passed away last year I delivered his eulogy and celebrated his larger than life personality as he was highly confident, bold and willing to agitate when needed – which helped him survive both the South Bronx and Vietnam and overcome discrimination. I have tried to model these attributes as part of my team’s ways of working to deliver trusted advisor legal support to our business clients who are helping our customers digitally transform. We need to exude self-confidence when serving our business clients, be fearless and creative in taking smart risks as we shape and close important customer deals, and be willing to break down barriers and navigate through complexity to get things done.
My First Legal Job
Like most law students I needed extra money during law school. So, at the beginning of my second year at Columbia Law School I applied for a part-time job opportunity at its Office of Career Services to assist an in-house employment lawyer at IBM named Michael Faillace – who happened to be blind. After interviewing with Michael at IBM’s headquarters in Armonk, New York he offered me the job.
Serving as a reader and assistant to Michael during law school was an incredible experience. In an era where technology was not at the point it is today to help drive accessibility, Michael was highly resourceful and adaptable. Even though he could not see, Michael’s disability did not get in the way of him being a great lawyer. I spent a lot of time with Michael during my second year of law school and got to know him well. To better serve him I needed to experience the world through his perspective and have a rich appreciation for his unique challenges. Looking back, Michael supplemented my law school education by not only inspiring me to work in the legal department for a technology company, but he taught me the importance of being empathetic. Fast forward 20+ years later Michael continues to be at the forefront of my mind as my team and I work hard to embrace empathy to deeply understand our customers, our partners, our business clients and my Microsoft legal team colleagues so we can better serve them.
My wife Simona was born in Romania and after graduating college she made the difficult decision to leave her family and immigrate to the United States due to a lack of job opportunities. When she arrived in the United States, she did not know anyone, had only $100 in her possession, had a temporary job and was not fluent in English. Despite these challenges – and the discrimination that she and other immigrants typically face – she persevered. Over a short period of time Simona progressed from being a hotel housekeeper to a salesperson at a high-end retailer to a store manager at that retailer to a district manager at that retailer to her current role as a leading realtor in Chicago. During her swearing-in ceremony as a new US citizen in 2011, she told me that she now hoped she would no longer face discrimination.
My wife has taught me a lot about resilience, strength and the ability to navigate through change. We all have faced – and will continue to face – challenges in our lives. However, what is critically important is our ability to have grit, to remain positive, to learn from our experiences with a growth mindset and to move forward. Witnessing how Simona successfully navigated through changes and obstacles in her life has inspired me to do the same – whether it be having 3 different jobs in the Microsoft legal team over the past 4 years to coping with the loss of my father last year to having to build a trusted advisor relationship with my new Microsoft Corporate Vice President business client this fiscal year. As I often remind my team, “the only constant is change” and we need to be ready, willing and able to embrace change rather than fear it.
Since July 2018 I have had the privilege to lead a team of 14 outstanding lawyers and legal professionals and we provide a wide range of legal support to Microsoft’s Enterprise Commercial and Small, Medium and Corporate sales teams across the US. Our team’s rich diversity is one of our greatest strengths and I have learned – and continue to learn – so much from my teammates. One of the most important leadership lessons they have taught me is the importance of earning their trust so we can be more inclusive and better serve our business clients. I have learned that being authentic, checking in with them on a regular basis, consistently sharing important business information from senior business clients, providing them with “air cover”, and being highly transparent goes a long way in building trust. This is one my favorite quotes from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella: “Trust cannot be claimed. It must be earned.” While this quote of course applies to our customers and partners, in my opinion it is equally applicable to our relationship with our teams.