DIVERSITY AT ALTRIA, both within the Law department and company-wide, is a full-time commitment, said General Counsel Denise Keane, who, along with Assistant General Counsel Kamran Khan and the Altria Law Department, hosted a remarkable, day-long Learning Experience that gave the LCLD Fellows an in-depth look at a company whose legal issues sometimes make headline news.
Altria’s mission, she said, “is to own and develop financially disciplined businesses that are leaders in responsibly providing adult tobacco and wine consumers with superior branded products.” By adhering to Altria’s mission and core values, they are discovering more ways to succeed responsibly, as Altria executives explained in a series of presentations for the Fellows.
Altria Chairman & CEO Martin Barrington, an attorney who served in the company’s Law Department for more than a decade, shared some bedrock principles of leadership that apply at Altria including critical thinking, hard work, a love of problem-solving, comfort with complexity and feedback, and a positive, optimistic attitude.
“The company produces ‘consistent financial results’ for shareholders through diversification and innovation, such as the ongoing development of e-vapor products by an Altria subsidiary, NuMark,” stated Altria CFO Howard Willard.
A panel of Altria in-house attorneys described the legal challenges faced by Altria leading up to and following the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), which resolved state health care recovery cases and fundamentally changed how tobacco products are advertised, marketed, and sold in the U.S.
“Compliance and ethics are hugely important to us,” said David Fernandez, who specializes in external affairs. “From our perspective, reasonable regulation can be a good thing. It can provide clarity about what society wants us to do.”
On a lighter note, the Fellows enjoyed a special appearance by Max, the tobacco-sniffing dog, a golden retriever who helps the company stop illicit trading of cigarettes.
Senior Vice President Jim Dillard, who leads the company’s Regulatory Affairs department, described Altria’s proactive approach to corporate responsibility, which has steadily elevated the company’s reputation for good citizenship.
Mark DeBord, Vice President of Human Resources, described Altria’s approach to leadership training and diversity issues, all centered on the company’s core values of “integrity, trust, and respect.”
In addition, a panel of outside counsel from Arnold & Porter and Shook, Hardy & Bacon talked about how those core values, and Altria’s passion for excellence, shape their relationship with the corporation, along with the challenges and rewards of working on Altria legal matters.
But for many Fellows, the highlight of the day was hearing General Counsel Denise Keane (above) talk about the progression of her own career, in a Chat with the GC Q&A at lunch moderated by Assistant General Counsel Eun O’Donnell, a 2013 LCLD Fellow. “Lead by example,” Keane counseled the Fellows, “and whatever else you do, keep your sense of humor.”
The night before the Learning Experience, Altria hosted a gala wine-tasting, Richmond history lecture, and dinner at the beautifully restored Hippodrome in Richmond’s historic Jackson Ward, a center of African-American culture once hailed as the “Harlem of the South.”
LCLD wishes to thank Denise Keane and the entire Altria Law Department, including LCLD Fellows past and present: Kamran Khan (2011), Hillary Hawkins (2012), Sigmund Collins (2012), Eun O’Donnell (2013), Valyncia Simmons (2011), Patricia Miller (2014), and Wesley Bizzell (2014).
Don Belt is the Communication Director at the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity.