Alumni Q&A with Orientation Speaker Deborah Platt Majoras '89, Chief Legal Officer of Procter & Gamble
Deborah Platt Majoras ’89 is chief legal officer and secretary of Procter & Gamble and a former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission.
Deborah Platt Majoras ’89, chief legal officer and secretary of Procter & Gamble and former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, will be the featured speaker at the University of Virginia School of Law’s orientation for the Class of 2014 on Monday.
Majoras, who chaired the FTC from 2004 to 2008 under President George W. Bush, oversees all legal functions for the 127,000-employee P&G, including the efforts of hundreds of lawyers working for the company around the globe. She previously worked as an antitrust lawyer and partner at Jones Day in Washington, D.C.
Majoras is a frequent speaker on competition policy, notably serving as co-chair of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce International Competition Policy Working Group. The former editor of the Virginia Law Review took time to speak with Virginia Law about serving in government, as well as in-house counsel for a major corporation.
What is a typical day like for you?
Oh, boy! I am not sure I have any typical days! In this job, I frequently have to jump into things quickly to keep a problem from developing, or to try to resolve one that has occurred. While every day I arrive in the office before 7 a.m. with a list of what I hope to accomplish, the real question is how much of it I will ever get to. When I get in, I need to check the emails that may have come in overnight from my colleagues in Asia, Europe and Africa. If there are any problems brewing or decisions to be made, I need to respond immediately. Of course, I always have a lot of meetings — with our Global Leadership Council, which I sit on; with our CEO or other business leaders; with members of my leadership team and any other members of our Legal Division. I also spend time giving legal presentations and training, which I really enjoy. I try to spend as much time as possible on legal and business problems, but I have a lot of management responsibilities as well, given that I oversee almost 600 lawyers and other legal professionals around the world. When I am not in Cincinnati, I am usually in one of our other geographic regions, meeting with my legal and business colleagues around the world.
Even though you didn’t necessarily plan to go to law school, it seems like you gravitated toward the law after you graduated from college. You worked as an intern for the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund, and as both a receptionist and paralegal for a large law firm. What made you ultimately decide to go to law school?
I took the internship because I wanted to see what it was like to work in Washington, D.C., but it did pique my interest in practicing law. Then, in the last semester of my senior year in college, an adjunct professor for a social work class I had pulled me aside and told me that if I really wanted to make a difference in the world, I should “aim high” and perhaps consider law school. After graduation, I took the job as a receptionist at a law firm in D.C. so I could think about whether to apply. The lawyers at the firm helped me a lot and once I became a paralegal, my love affair with law really began.
Why did you transition from a law firm to government work?
The opportunity arose unexpectedly, so I took it. I was very happy at Jones Day and not looking to leave. But when newly inaugurated President Bush appointed one of my partners to head the Antitrust Division at DOJ, he asked me to go with him and become a deputy assistant attorney general. For an antitrust lawyer, it was just too irresistible to pass up! And it was the right decision, because I loved my jobs both at DOJ and FTC.
What was the most fulfilling part of working as chairman of the FTC?
Working with the dedicated career lawyers, economists and other professionals to enforce the law and set policy. I am utterly passionate about the importance of free markets to our nation and to the world. But even free markets need rules, and figuring out how to enforce those rules and set policy in a way that protects consumers without picking winners and losers in the market was incredibly fulfilling, especially because I got to do it with really talented people.
What was the most difficult part of working as chairman of the FTC?
The political part. I love getting things done, but I am not enamored with politics, and unfortunately sometimes political issues can slow things down. There were a few times when I had to testify before members of Congress who were expressing their unhappiness with our approach, and that was not particularly fun. But it is still a great system, and I was honored to be a part of it.
How is your current work as the chief legal officer of P&G different from your previous positions?
The real difference lies in working so closely with the business partners to accomplish our goals while still following laws and regulations. In-house lawyers play a unique role in running the business, and I am really enjoying it.
What is the most fulfilling thing about working as in-house counsel?
Working with people who are passionate about what they do, both inside and outside the Legal Division, and who have the talent to effectively channel that passion. We all push each other to get better, and I love that. The employees of P&G truly want to make people’s lives better and easier. Take laundry detergent, which many of us take for granted. In fact, we have learned that all over the world, women take enormous pride in sending their families out of the house in clean clothes, so laundry detergent is really important to them. We get really excited about helping them do that.
What advice would you offer to current Virginia Law students interested in working as in-house counsel?
You may need to look a bit harder and make more effort than you would for a law firm, because not all corporations interview on campus (though that is starting to change), and because often companies hire for specific positions, rather than a whole group of new lawyers. Even if you do not find an in-house position right out of law school, you should stay patient, because you can apply later after you have gained some experience. I tell everyone that the key is to excel in each job that you have, even if it turns out not be your favorite, because it will put you in the best position should the next one come along.
How did your time at Virginia Law prepare you for your career?
I did not know much about the profession or the practice of law, and so my time at UVA was valuable in that respect. But more importantly, my three years of being surrounded by incredibly talented and smart people gave me confidence and energy, which led me to see many more possibilities. And the collegial atmosphere was one that I have taken with me in every job that I have had — that is really important.
What was one of your favorite Law School classes, and why?
Administrative Law was my favorite, and I was particularly fascinated by the interface between our Constitution and the way we make rules and govern. Little did I know how much I would use it at the FTC!
When you return to Charlottesville, what do you like to revisit?
I love to walk on the Lawn, which I still find breathtaking. I am proud to walk through the fancy law school that you all now have! And I love to eat, so I go back to all the old haunts, like Bodo’s [Bagels], the Tavern or Duner’s.