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Bringing Energy to Africa: Eileen Brumback 86

GE general counsel starts new life in Sub-Sahara

by Mark F. Bernstein '89

Eileen Brumback

There are mid-career moves, and then there is the sort of mid-career move Eileen Brumback ’86 has made.

Since January, Brumback has been general counsel of General Electric in Sub-Saharan Africa, where she is based in Nairobi, Kenya. She is responsible for helping support GE’s ventures across 25 countries, and leads a team of 20 legal and compliance professionals. 

A move on this scale brings a range of challenges. In addition to overseeing the company’s legal and regulatory compliance across a patchwork of legal systems, Brumback tries to help GE’s many businesses gain a foothold in new markets. 

“It’s what Africa needs: power, transportation, health care, aviation upgrade,” she said.

Because many African countries have weak private sectors, only governments can afford to undertake big, long-term projects, such as a building power plants. “But governments usually don’t have the expertise to do it on their own, so that’s where GE comes in,” she said.

The personal adjustment was almost easier—she and her husband are empty- nesters after seeing their youngest son off to college. “Just like a move anywhere is a headache, this is a little more severe headache,” she said with a laugh. They rent a house near Kenyan government officials and U.S. expatriates, including U.N. officials and foreign service officers from the U.S. Embassy.

Non-work challenges range from finding the best green grocer to dealing with not-infrequent power or telephone outages. Although her landlord assured her that there was a backup water tank in case service was interrupted, he did not tell her that the tank was empty—until she discovered it herself.

Brumback’s career has been peripatetic from the start. After seven years with King & Spalding in Atlanta, she helped open the firm’s New York office. In 2004, she became senior vice president and general counsel for GE Capital Real Estate, overseeing developments in North America, Europe and Asia. When GE Capital sold its real estate business, this new opportunity arose.

Friends, Brumback said, had one of two reactions to her move: either “that’s so exciting” or “you’re so brave.”

“Fortunately, I tend to get excited about new adventures and new challenges,” she said.