Q&A: Mary Doyle, Laura Stein Award

The vice president, legal, and chief compliance & ethics officer at Oracle Corp. discusses how she helps women in law

Read profiles of all the winners here.

Law School: University of California—Berkeley Law School

Favorite Woman in History: Rosie the Riveter

 

Q: How did your career progress after graduation?

A: Like many law school graduates, I first went to a law firm, Manatt Phelps & Phillips, in Los Angeles, where I practiced litigation.

 

Q: How did you end up in-house?

A: I started looking for a change in career just about the time I got married. And that’s when I identified an in-house position with Teledyne Technologies Inc., a place where I learned a lot and was on a very steep learning curve. It was an exciting job with great people.

 

Q: As you were going along in your career, what kind of support did you receive?

A: I actually was surrounded throughout my career, and particularly once I went in-house, with a lot of peers who were very strong lawyers, some with more experience than I had, some with less. But the mentoring that I most appreciated in the early days was the support I got from my peers.

From the moment I started law school to the time I graduated, I really enjoyed law and the practice of law. It was a passion for me, and it was a passion for a lot of the people that I worked with. And the people that I most admired tended to strive to be truly excellent lawyers, both in terms of their knowledge and their skill base, but also in terms of the practical benefits that they could bring to their clients and, once we were in-house, to the company that we worked for.

So when I say that I got a lot of support from my peers, that’s what I’m referring to—that we sat around and talked about what we were doing and why we were doing it, the best way to do it, the best way to learn more, and that was a very stimulating environment for me and very encouraging, very supportive.

After my first job, I had mentors along the way, particularly when I moved to Silicon Valley. The first mentor that I had in the Valley was Mike Stern, who is a Cooley partner who had been the general counsel of General Magic immediately before me, and who taught me the ways of Silicon Valley and the skills that are needed to survive in the Valley as a lawyer, including, in particular, licensing skills and business skills: how to represent a start-up successfully, even when dealing with very large companies that may not have your best interests at heart, or very large companies that obviously have a tremendous amount of leverage that a small company doesn’t have.

It occurs to me that, in my first corporate law job at Teledyne, I had several mentors on the business side who imparted the value of understanding and partnering with the business, including George A. Roberts, Bill Rutledge, Don Rice and Hudson Drake. They, in addition to my general counsel, Judith Nelson, and my peers in the legal department, as well as my peers elsewhere in the business, taught me a great deal about successful enterprise and the value that lawyers can bring to it. My general counsel and my peers in the legal department also shared generously of their own skills over my 12-year tenure at Teledyne, establishing me as the generalist I am now. In the years after I returned to Silicon Valley in 1996, I had many another mentor on the business side, including Steve Markman, Sue Swenson, Kathy Layton and Ed Colligan, all of whom, in addition to Mike Stern at Cooley and, I’m sure, many others, were instrumental to my success.

I graduated from law school in 1978, and when I started law school in ’75, ours was the first class that had more than just a handful of women in it. We had 30 percent women, and these days it’s closer to 50 percent women in law school. But prior to that, there weren’t a lot of women. And women who graduated from law school and ended up succeeding in law firm life tended to be individuals, in every sense of the word. They struggled to get into law school and out of law school, into law firms and into the partnership ranks. And that was often a full-time job. So I think when I came along, they were still very much in the process of making their way to partner and what have you, and succeeding in their careers and establishing relationships with clients. So the women coming up right behind them were still somewhat on their own, and that’s why I ended up looking to my peers for support.

 

Q: What obstacles did you encounter in your career?

A: Everyone encounters obstacles. Probably the biggest obstacle that anyone has to face is themselves. And that was true for me, that when you face challenges in your work or in the environment that you’re working in, it’s most important to be open to attacking the problem from a different angle. So you have to have perspective and maturity, and sometimes those are a struggle to achieve in every instance, particularly one in which you feel threatened or vulnerable.

But, in my experience, if you achieve that perspective and a mature point of view, a door always opens, or a way around the problem becomes obvious. And that’s been true throughout my career.

Q: What have you done to advance women in law?

A: I hope that I have been an effective peer. I know that many of my good friends date back from my early years in practice—men and women. My colleagues at Teledyne all are still very dear friends, and we continue to support each other and to keep track of each other as we make our way through our careers.

And then I have been a mentor to many young men and women who have shown an interest in law school. I have to say that lawyering is a very good career choice for a woman, because it comes with immediate credibility in that J.D. degree and a license to practice law. And it gives you a very well-understood and established goal inside an organization, whether it’s a law firm or a business, and an established path and, at this point, a lot of support along that path, although, obviously, we still have a way to go.

The other thing I did, of course, was to establish, with my friend, Karen Cottle, the Dinner Among Friends group, which came out of a conversation that I had with Karen about how it’s sort of lonely at the top once you have a general counsel role. The people that you can really share things with, who understand the types of challenges that you face, tend to be other general counsel. But that crowd still is largely male, and so Karen and I thought it would be fun to start a group of women general counsel that met on a regular basis. And the regarding line of the email I sent to all of the women I knew at the time who were general counsel was “Dinner Among Friends,” and that name has stuck. So that’s another thing that I’ve done, not so much with the intention of helping women generally, but of just helping myself and the friends that I had in Silicon Valley.

I also have worked really hard to build good, strong and diverse teams in the departments that I’ve worked in, whether Teledyne many years ago, General Magic, Palm and now Oracle.

 

Q: What career advice would you give to a younger woman lawyer?

A: Law is a great career, particularly for women and others who are looking to be on equal footing in the workplace. A law degree can bring you instant credibility in any number of fields, from law firm practice and investment banking, to government service and public-interest work, not to mention in-house practice at companies big and small. The best advice ever shared with me as I picked my way along my career path was “know your strengths,” whether as strategist or tactician, leader or back-room consultant, analyst or advocate, brief writer or contract drafter, people or process person, and then look for a role in an enterprise you care about that makes good use of what you do best. Also, don’t be afraid to take a little risk. It may take you several moves or a stretch beyond your comfort zone to discover what really makes you tick.

 

Q: How do you handle work-life balance?

A: I’m probably fortunate in that regard. I have a husband who’s been a great partner to me for almost 30 years, and we do not have children, which is something of a regret for me, but it wasn’t in the cards for us. So I think that I have a little less of a challenge in that respect. I enjoy my job and I enjoy time with my husband and family. I do have a fairly large extended family in Silicon Valley, and I make a good amount of time to spend with them. And my life is a happy and a satisfied one.

 

Q: What has been your proudest moment as a lawyer?

A: I can’t think of any particular moment that stands out above many proud and satisfying moments that I’ve experienced as a lawyer. In my roles at Oracle, Palm, General Magic and Teledyne, the entire legal team won a lot of great cases, and that’s always fun. We did well in negotiations with partners that had a great deal more leverage than we did in many instances, and that was, of course, always thrilling.

And I’ve been recognized by my team and by the legal community, which was always humbling. I’ve seen members of my team recognized, which I’ve always taken a great deal of pride in. And I’ve seen a couple of interns that I worked with at Palm make their way into and through college, and that also was very satisfying. So I can’t say that any one of those things that makes me more proud than another, but combined, they leave me a happy and satisfied member of the human race.

Q: Who is your favorite woman in history?

A: I’ve taken bits of inspiration from so many women, including Abigail Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Rachel Carson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Marie Curie, Rosa Parks, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Jackie Kennedy, Barbara Jordan, Ann Richards, Sally Ride, Gloria Steinem, Mother Teresa, Hillary Clinton, Melinda Gates, Aung San Suu Kyi, Michelle Obama, Mary Meeker, not to mention many of my own peers, all people who had/have tremendous intelligence and foresight, huge courage and, whether they meant to change the world or just make their own way, were/are a tremendous force for good.

I confess, however, that I have a picture of only one woman often posted over my desk: Rosie the Riveter. I love her muscular pose in both the familiar J. Howard Miller and the less familiar Norman Rockwell images, her “can-do” attitude, her optimistic spirit. Long after these icons became favorites of mine, I learned that the women who modeled for both images had a “Doyle” connection (the woman who modeled for the Miller image married a Doyle; the woman who modeled for Norman Rockwell’s version was a telephone operator named Mary Doyle). So there’s a seed of personal inspiration for me in these images as well. 

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