Meeting Gloria Santona

As I drove into the lush woods, the rain stopped and I saw a contemporary building that seemed to blend into the landscape: McDonald's Corporate Headquarters. The setting was peaceful and harmonious-the perfect environment for one of the nation's most powerful and respected general counsels, Gloria Santona.

Gloria greeted me with a warm smile and a strong handshake. She made me feel comfortable and confident. We began to talk sitting at the small round table in her doorless office overlooking the wooded grounds. Immediately, she began talking about her young son, transportation issues and the challenges of being a working mom. As a working mom with a 22-month-old son, I could relate. Interestingly, her smile widened when she spoke of work-life balance-she loves all aspects of her life. Gloria quoted a colleague, Michelle Coleman Hayes, General Counsel of Pitney Bowes, who said during a recent panel the two women were on: "during the work-life waltz, someone always leads."

Gloria believes that an enriching life outside of work is directly related to one's productivity at work. Thus, McDonald's strives to help employees balance their private lives with their professional lives. In a recent survey, more than 50 percent of the legal department employees who responded to the McDonald's survey, stated that they had an alternative schedule such as flextime or a compressed work week.

She attributes much of her success to her ability to focus and to her determination. These characteristics have served Gloria well but she says she has to be careful that she is not perceived as "stern." She makes a concerted effort to connect with her staff and her peers by walking through the halls of the corporate office as often as she can and engaging in non-work related conversation. "Face-time is important," she says. Gloria wants her co-workers to know that she cares about their lives. If she chooses to leave early to attend her son's soccer practice, she lets others know about it so that they can feel comfortable doing the same. Answering e-mails can always be done late at night when her son is sleeping.

This dynamic attorney is super efficient! Gloria could have coined the term "multi-tasking"-her staff consists of 110 attorneys in 20 countries plus a large group of paralegals and assistants. Yet, she makes the time to review her direct reports twice a year. Every couple of years, department leaders receive a "360 review" whereby the individual is reviewed by staff, peers, supervisors and clients. This, says Gloria, focuses on the person's "soft skills" such as the ability to effectively communicate and relate to others. She says this is a very enlightening experience.

"McDonald's is very good at treasuring differences," she says. This is one of the many reasons Gloria has stayed at McDonald's. "When I started with McDonald's in 1977, I was one of 13 attorneys-four were women, two were Hispanic, one was African-American and one was Asian."

Gloria is also proud of McDonald's commitment to Pro Bono work. McDonald's attorney Pauline Levy is a zealous advocate of charity work and heads the Pro Bono unit. "Everyone-attorneys, paralegals and administrative staff is encouraged to participate in Pro Bono activities," says Gloria. Their work includes initiatives with the Center for Disability and Elder Law and a pilot program called "Street Law" where high school students learn about law and constitutional rights.

When asked how to transition from private or government practice to corporate, Gloria suggests networking. Gloria touts the Association of Corporate Counsel on whose board she sits and its "New to In-house" program. Adopting a different mindset is important-thinking about management and budgets. When starting an in-house job, she suggests spending about a month talking in depth to the business people in the organization.

The most important attributes for a general counsel are "integrity, a fundamental set of values that people can rely on, communication skills and knowing the business," says Gloria. Understanding the way the business works and the associated jargon are of utmost importance. "An attorney who thinks outside of the box, networks and continues to obtain training is going to be a better lawyer for the company," Gloria says.

Spending an hour with Gloria Santona was a privilege. I am so grateful that she shared her thoughts and views on being a successful woman in the legal profession. Thank you, Gloria, for leading by example!


Meredith E. Ritchie is vice-chair of the Women and the Law Committee and is Deputy General Counsel for the State's Central Management Services.

Gloria Santona

Gloria Santona

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October 2004Volume 10Number 1PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)