The Columns

Judging Corporate Boards

— by on September 21st, 2010

The Atlanta Journal Constitution published an engaging question-and-answer session with Washington and Lee law alumna Lizanne Thomas, of the Class of 1982, last week. The primary topic was corporate governance, an area in which Lizanne has a wealth of experience. She not only practices and teaches in the area, but she also has hands-on experience.

Lizanne is partner-in-charge of the 150-lawyer Atlanta office of Jones Day. She also heads the firm’s global corporate governance team. In addition, she is a member of the board of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc., so her understanding of corporate governance issues is broad. At Krispy Kreme, for instance, she co-chaired a special committee whose investigation led to governance changes at the company in 2004.

Lizanne’s take on the current climate in corporations? Here’s what she told the AJC: “I believe that the sins of the few have been visited upon the many. The vast majority of our nation’s corporations are not out of control. Yes, there were a few companies–and leaders–that were greedy, but this was not the central cause of the financial crisis. The business leaders we have come to know and respect do not conduct business in a cavalier way.”

The interview goes on to discuss Lizanne’s view on her own career, including being one of the first women to join what the AJC terms “a bluestocking Atlanta law firm.” Her advice to young lawyers is particularly insightful: “Tell them to love the work and if they don’t, go find work they do love. Their work needs to be thoughtful on the big issues and dead right on the small ones. Beat expectations. If it’s due on Friday, get it in on Thursday. Be interested in and well read on our clients’ businesses, not just the subjects they will face. Build bridges in all possible ways, with those who are senior, with peers, subordinates and especially staff. Act with manners and always take the high road. Be a gracious loser and an even more gracious winner. Have a sense of humor.”