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Walgreens' GC will be honored at this year’s Transformative Leadership Awards

Over the years, Tom Sabatino has demonstrated a commitment to mentoring and promoting women lawyers

Tom Sabatino’s resume is impressive, including general counsel posts at Baxter International, Schering-Plough, United Airlines and, currently, Walgreens, where he also serves as executive vice president and corporate secretary. But at this year’s Transformative Leadership Awards, he’ll be honored for another facet of his career: his commitment to mentoring and promoting female attorneys.

Sabatino is the 2012 recipient of the Thomas A. Mars Award, presented to a general counsel committed to promoting women and attorneys of color, something that has been a tradition of his for years.

His commitment to diversity began when he became general counsel of Baxter in 1997 and worked with several female managers in the law department. “What became clear to me is that they brought something vital to the table,” Sabatino said. “And I can’t tell you that there are particular attributes of a woman lawyer that are different than a male lawyer’s … But I will tell you that having a mix of people from different backgrounds creates a dynamic within a group that makes things so much better.”

But Sabatino quickly realized that he could not take this diverse dynamic for granted. “It also became clear to me that if I was going to be able to have the high-quality women that I had the pleasure of working with … then I needed to do something about it both within Baxter and externally,” he said.

He began by spearheading Baxter’s “Preferred Partner Network,” insisting that at least one relationship partner from each firm working with Baxter is either female or an attorney of color. “Sometimes it seems sort of mechanical, but the reality is that it sends a signal that this is important to you,” he said.

His successful diversity initiatives continued in his next position at Schering-Plough, where he effectively doubled the number of female and minority attorneys in four and a half years. He emphasizes, however, that hiring a diverse group of lawyers is only the first step. “It isn’t about just having them in the firms somewhere, it’s about seeing them and promoting them,” he noted.

It would appear that Sabatino has succeeded in this goal, as the list of women he has promoted or mentored includes Marla Persky, now general counsel of Boehringer-Ingelheim; Jan Stern Reed, general counsel at Solo Co.; and Michelle Kern, currently general counsel of Cima Labs.

In the end, Sabatino’s philosophy of diversity isn’t just a numbers game; it’s about taking thoughtful steps to create an effective and varied team. “You take an interest in people; you take an interest in people’s careers,” he said. “You find strong people and you foster their development.”

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Project 5/165 is endeavoring to reach the day when one-third—or 165—of Fortune 500 general counsel are women. We want that day to come in the next five years, thus, 5/165. The programs encompasses various elements we hope will create awareness around this important topic, such as regular messages from the voice of Project 5/165, Stasia Kelly, and networking events around the country. In the meantime, we'll keep you updated on the latest news on women in corporate law with our monthly newsletter, and do our best to promote the advancement of women through in-person workshops.
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