Be Present, Be Persistent, and Stick to Your Values: Career Advice from Booz Allen CLO Nancy Laben

Sep 12, 2019 12:45 PM ET
Press Release

Among the general counsel of Fortune 500 companies, 25% are women. Yet only one was named this year’s Top Corporate Counsel by WomenInc. Magazine, a media platform which has recognized women such as former Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and television producer Shonda Rhimes. 

And only one, it may be safe to assume, started her professional journey as a cheesemonger, learning valuable career lessons about being industrious, bringing value, and more while helping customers order goat cheese, gruyere, and more for their next party. 

Meet Nancy Laben, Booz Allen chief legal officer, founding board member of the Booz Allen Foundation, and an active seeker of teachable moments and lifelong learning. Highlights follow from her interview with the “Booz Allen Stories” podcast. 

Showing up and sticking to it

Through her high school cheese-selling experience, Laben learned the importance of listening to customers and their needs—and the importance of being present. 

“The shop didn’t open unless I showed up with the key,” she said. She translates the lesson of “showing up” today to “being in the moment, being with your clients.” 

Laben also cited her family as a powerful influence. Her grandmother pursued a career in law as well, and faced formidable challenges as a woman. In one job, she was given a desk in the hallway—and a six-month trial period working for free. “They told her, ‘if you don’t mess up,’ they would start paying her.”

“I think having grit—having the stick-to-it-iveness as she used to have—allows one to go further than one might even think possible,” Laben said. “I think that’s something that’s helped me as I’ve faced obstacles.”

Serving as a trusted business advisor

Laben joined Booz Allen’s legal department almost 6 years ago, having spent her entire career in-house. As CLO, she manages risk and reputation for the firm, makes legal and ethical decisions based on the firm’s guiding purpose and shared values, and empowers people and organizations through environmental, social, and corporate governance.  

It’s a role she’s seen evolve—and expand—over time. 

Speaking on her earlier years, Nancy said, “The lawyer was someone at the end of the phone who you asked a legal question of. And sometimes, more often than not, you got the answer, ‘no,’ because if you were calling the lawyer you already knew you were in trouble.”

Today, she said of herself and her team, “We are trusted business advisors who happen to have a legal degree and a legal background”—a role that requires them to “take a whole seat at the table.” 

“When you are in a conversation, you’re not just providing your legal advice, you’re providing your business advice,” she said. “I think that’s what differentiates the Booz Allen legal team from many organizations, and I think that’s how we add the most value to the company.”

Even as technology changes, “A CLO has to make sure they are engaged with their people and their people are engaged. Our company values may be reinvigorated over time, but as the CLO, you have to keep those values at the forefront of everything you do,” she said. 

Hear Laben’s advice for women, all professionals, and the CLOs of 2120 in the full podcast interview

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