February 21st, 2013 | 6:00 am

Voice of Experience: Anne Robinson, Chief Counsel, Global Commercial Services and U.S. Consumer Travel, American Express

filed under Voices of Experience

By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

After graduating with Honors from Hampton University, Anne Robinson went on to study law at Columbia Law School. She joined the law firm of Milbank Tweed, and then moved to an in house role at Deloitte Consulting before joining American Express. What attracted her to the company, she said, was its female General Counsel Louise M. Parent, who had a reputation for supporting women in the company and in the legal profession at large.

Now, having worked for American Express for nine years, Robinson is Chief Counsel for Global Commercial Services and US Consumer Travel, leading the legal team supporting several of the company’s lines of business.

Robinson says she enjoys working in the office of the General Counsel. “It’s not a business unit that has to deliver products or services, and it’s not like marketing or advertising either. We’re business advisors, and for me, the greatest achievement is feeling like I’ve been consistently able to gain the trust and respect of my clients and serve them as a trusted advisor.”

Building those relationships every day is what she likes about her job, she continued, “If I didn’t like the day-to-day, my job satisfaction would be limited. If my clients are excited, I’m excited and that’s why I’ve been here almost ten years now.”

Importance of Sponsorship

Robinson says she wishes she had learned earlier about the power of female mentorship and sponsorship. “One of the things I wish I had thought about differently early in my career was how to leverage women as sponsors and mentors for me professionally along the way.”

She explained, “When I started my career almost twenty years ago, most of the senior people in my line of work were the traditional, old, gray-haired, white men. And there was less of an expectation that women would mentor or pull forward young women. But it turned out for me that women have been very instrumental in my career development.”

“Early in my career, I was surprised when a female partner would pull me aside and give me advice or insist I’d be staffed on her deal. If I had known, I would have been more proactive about seeking out that support or mentorship.”

She encouraged young lawyers to focus on relationships. “From my perspective, the thing you have to do very early in your career is build relationships. You will find support in unique places, and this is such a critical aspect of career development.”

“I commit to making myself available to young people and I wish more people were proactive about seeking out senior people. They’re here to help – be aggressive about this,” she added.

Women in Law

Are there challenges for women in law? Just look at the numbers, Robinson says. “More than 50 percent of law school graduates are women. Looking at the demographics of firms and major general counsel offices, that percentage is not typical of the people in the senior ranks.” She continued, “American Express is trying to build opportunities to change that.”

She also noted that there are additional challenges for African American women in law as well. “It’s pretty obvious, when you take two historically disenfranchised populations, by its nature you have the struggle of being both.”

But, she continued, “Women of color in the legal profession really support one another. One of the groups in which I participate is Corporate Council Women of Color, which was founded by Laurie Robinson. Our population is limited in firms, and even more limited when you come in house. Groups like this are one way to support those women.”

She continued, “American Express is a really special and unique place. Because we have a female general counsel with a reputation for supporting diversity in the industry, the company is very committed to it. Being able to work in her office was a considerable draw for me.”

“I came in feeling like I was joining a tremendous organization with a depth of talent amongst the senior females that was unparalleled. Yet American Express still sees the opportunity to grow.” Robinson mentioned the company’s Women’s Conference, for example, as one way it works to support women.

“The struggle most companies have is getting women represented at very senior levels and I’m very excited about the things the company is doing to close that gap.”

In Her Personal Time

“My outside work passion is my six year old daughter,” Robinson said. “She guides most of what I do. I’m trying to make sure she grows up in a world we can be proud of, where her opportunities are unlimited, where everyone has access to fundamental things like education and healthcare.”

“I want to make sure young people grow up and inherit a great world!”

Robinson is enthusiastic about the potential for people in the legal community to give back, and has supported the group Legal Outreach for over 20 years. “I became involved as a student at Columbia. The group takes junior high school and high school students and helps them prepare for college. The goal is to make college less aspirational, and more of an obtainable goal.”

She continued, “From seventh grade to twelfth grade, we give students the tools to apply for college. We also work with them to teach them how to think critically and speak publicly through constitutional law debates, and we serve as mentors and even help with homework.”

The group is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, she noted. “I’ve seen a number of students cycle through the program who are now in the workforce. We’re creating a better future by supporting these kids.”

1 comment

  1. Dr. Ward

    Anne is so deserving of this acknowledgement. Kudos sorority sister and dear friend. Olivia has an awesome role model … as did you!