On and Off the Mommy Track

Friday, December 21, 2018 - 13:31


Jannet Gurian, Senior Vice President and Chief Counsel with Thomson Reuters’ commercial & investor division, Refinitiv, below discusses her struggles with work-life balance. “You really can’t have it all,” she says.

CCBJ: Tell us, what led you to a career in law? 

Jannet Gurian: I was always fascinated by the law. I really didn't know any lawyers growing up, but the ability to defend people wrongfully accused and the ability to promote civil rights, your typical altruistic ideas as a young person, was what led me to a legal career.  

Tell us how you came to your current role at Refinitiv. 

It was a long, winding road. I started as a federal law clerk in the U.S. Virgin Islands and went from there to a boutique real estate law firm called Wein & Malkin, which was as much a business opportunity as a legal one. Wein & Malkin was one of the leaders in public real estate syndications starting in the ’60s with Harry Helmsley (e.g. creating a public partnership to own the Empire State Building). As a partner we each had additional business roles supporting the firm’s syndicated captive clients.  

I went from there to an affiliate of Cantor Fitzgerald, primarily because Wien & Malkin wanted to solely concentrate on real estate and I had caught the financial technology bug. I could not maintain my expanded partner obligations, support my non real estate clients’ needs and be a mom, so I joined a client. From Cantor Fitzgerald, I went to Thomson Reuters (then Thomson Financial) for a better work life balance. I continued to rise up through the ranks but I did not have a clear path towards where I wanted to go.  My goal was to be passionate about what I do every day rather than pursuing the corner office.  

Tell us about your leadership style and who influenced it. 

My leadership style focuses on empowering the people that report up to me to enable them to reach their goals and career objectives. I hold them to a very high standard. If they want to pursue a particular path in their career, I will help mentor them to get there. But it's up to them to get there. People who have influenced me have been more on the business side than on the legal side – people with a great vision of what they want to do and a good game plan to get there. It’s a vision not so much of doing the right thing, but of pursuing goals in a manner that is ethical and profitable.  

What qualities do you look for in hiring? How do you find those people?  

I look for people who are curious, always willing to learn, and that are not risk averse, which is difficult because all lawyers are risk averse to a degree. I want to work with lawyers that have a strong business sense, are comfortable with constant change, have excellent social skills and, clearly, are highly competent.  

How do we find those people? I can't say that I go out and actually look for people. We have huge HR capabilities, and they provide the initial slate of candidates. Once we get to interviewing, it’s a question of whether people fit. Competency is expected.  

What’s the best career advice that you've received?  

Do something you're passionate about, something you care about, and try to do the best you can at it. Most lawyers work pretty hard hours, even in-house counsel. The vision that we don't work hard hours is mythical at this point. If you're going to work hard every day, and spend the majority of your life during your working career at work, you need to love it.  

What's the best life advice that you've received?  

Life advice? I could use some. It's very hard to find the balance between work and the rest of life. I think I was very lucky that I have an extremely supportive husband who is able to share the parenting of our children with me. But you really can’t have it all. You have to decide at certain points of your career what's more important. As I said earlier, I took myself off the track of wanting to be the best and most ambitious lawyer twice in my career because I felt that my children should know what I look like.  

I don't regret that choice but I was really pretty lousy at the mommy track. So part of it is knowing who you are and finding, not only your own balance, but the balance with the people around you.