Marcy Cohen, Chief Legal Officer and Managing Director of ING Americas, talks about her management style, what she looks for in a new hire and the professional course she charted en route to ING.
CCBJ: What led you to your role at ING?
Marcy Cohen: I began my career at a boutique corporate and litigation law firm, but working in-house was my ultimate goal. I wanted a career that combined business and law, and was delighted when I was offered the opportunity to join the legal department at a Middle Eastern bank’s New York–based subsidiary. That experience led to an opportunity as the general counsel of the U.S. subsidiary of the National Bank of Greece. After that, I joined the legal department of the Republic National Bank of New York as deputy general counsel, where I expanded my practice from bank regulatory and transactional matters to securities law and international private banking. After Republic, I joined WestLB (a German bank) and then BNP Paribas (a French bank) as deputy general counsel, further rounding out my experience to include derivatives and international matters. This eventually led to an opportunity working in Japan on various complex transactional and regulatory matters.
That global perspective continues with my current position as chief legal officer for ING’s operations in the Americas, as I have responsibility for all of ING’s legal and governmental affairs in the U.S. and Latin America, which includes Mexico and South America.
Can you tell us about your leadership style and who has influenced you?
My leadership style is collaborative, and it has been influenced by the best and worst behaviors of my former managers and colleagues. I emulate the good traits and avoid the bad ones. I’m driven to inspire others to enjoy what they do, to work hard and add value, and to do things as a team. Rather than micromanaging and dictating the precise way a project should be handled, I open a dialogue and focus on what needs to be accomplished and the time requirements – and then we all share ideas about the best way to meet and manage the objectives.
I give people the space to use their creativity in the most natural and comfortable way that allows them to produce quality results in an efficient manner. The key to successful leadership is open communication and transparency among the team – and developing trust and confidence. I encourage people to think and solve problems on their own, while keeping an open door for brainstorming on new or tricky issues. I maintain an environment where people feel comfortable, encouraging them to come up with innovative suggestions to solve problems.
What qualities do you look for when hiring new people for your legal team?
Intelligence, relevant experience and proper credentials are obvious must-haves, but personality and cultural fit are also important. I look for excellent communicators who are comfortable but self-assured during the interview process, with high emotional intelligence. A superior candidate must convey an understanding of the importance of being client-focused, while also being grounded in the risk-management side of the position. I look for candidates who will regularly go above and beyond, and I am particularly impressed by those who have an interest in things like taking on leadership roles in industry associations, involvement in community affairs, or participating in reading, writing, teaching or speaking engagements that broaden their knowledge base.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Always expect the unexpected, be strategic and apply focus to everything you do. If an answer comes easily, rethink it to be sure you’ve considered all of the angles – and make sure you look around corners.
How about the best life advice?
Whatever you do in life, prepare for it and put in the time and effort to be successful. And even more important, lead a balanced life, and if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, stop doing it.
Published March 1, 2019.