An alumnus of both Harvard College and Columbia Law School, Rashida La Lande has worked at some of the nation’s top law firms and was a partner for several years. Currently, she serves as the Senior Vice President and General Counsel of the Kraft-Heinz company. Sometimes known by her colleagues as the ‘General Crisis-Management Counsel,’ Rashida believes views success as being attainable to everyone.
Born and raised in Jamaica Queens, New York, Rashida looked around her community and found her path to success through the legal field. She always strives to advance her family and is no stranger to doing the hard work it takes to reach her goals.
Rashida spoke with Her Agenda and provided insight into her career trajectory and what she learned about reaching the highest levels in her field.
Her Agenda: Prior to Kraft, you worked at two large law firms where you represented major corporations in several business matters, including mergers and acquisitions and private equity transactions. How did you become interested in that practice area?
Rashida La Lande: I fell into it. When I thought about becoming a lawyer, there weren’t many television shows that focused on corporate lawyers. Most of the shows focus on litigation. When I went to law school, I assumed I would be a litigator. After my first year in law school, I worked for a judge and after my second year, I became a summer associate at Chadbourne and Parke, LLP. There, they gave me an opportunity to work in different areas. When they had me look into businesses financial statements, future plans of the businesses, and how it would grow, I found it fascinating. I believe I liked the area so much because I have a love for science fiction. In science fiction novels and movies, the focus is on the world’s future. What does the world look like five, ten, twenty years from now? When you think about private equity and mergers and acquisitions transactions, corporations are thinking who they want to be in the future. The work requires a level of creativity and analysis that speaks to that part of me.
When you think about private equity and mergers and acquisitions transactions, corporations are thinking who they want to be in the future. The work requires a level of creativity and analysis that speaks to that part of me.
Her Agenda: In thinking about your transition from a large firm like Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, LLP to a major corporation, what factors did you consider before making the change?
Rashida La Lande: I reached a point in my career when I realized that my only professional jobs had been in major law firms. While I had represented major corporations, I had never worked in one. I thought that if I was going to try something new, this was the time to do it. When the opportunity was presented to work at Kraft-Heinz, I believed it to be a great fit because it is an ever-changing consumer-based company focused on international growth. When I spoke with the CEO about the issues Kraft faces, and the available opportunities to work on a team that strategized, managed and overcame issues, I thought it would be fun. I got into the law because it would be fun, and when there was an opportunity to have a high-level job at an organization where I could enjoy became available, I could not turn it down.
Her Agenda: Could you tell me what exactly the role of an in-house counsel at a major corporation consists of?
Rashida La Lande: Essentially, it is my job to protect the company, its stockholders, boards, and assets from both from an offensive and defensive position in order to help us grow and remain successful. Some of my workload includes overseeing board meetings, contract drafting, managing the litigation department, and the company’s risk.
Some of my workload includes overseeing board meetings, contract drafting, managing the litigation department, and the company’s risk.
Her Agenda: What was the greatest learning curve you had to overcome in moving from your firm as a partner into a major corporation?
Rashida La Lande: There were several things. As a partner at a law firm, I had an office and my day is calendared based on meetings with clients. Now, my day is coming in early and having back-to-back meetings until the day is over. In my time at the firm, I used to spend my time in Microsoft Word, and now I have to primarily work in Excel and PowerPoint to create business-friendly documents. In my job as general counsel, I have to know enough about everything in order to direct the team towards the company’s objectives. I have to tap into being a generalist, which is how law school trained me.
Her Agenda: How would you describe your leadership style, and how has it evolved over the years?
Rashida La Lande: I have a collaborative leadership style with everyone on my team. When it comes to my decision making, I prefer the group finds a solution together. I do that by considering all points of views regarding an issue, even if they do not align with my own. I empower my team to express when they disagree with me and presenting new ideas. It is important to have a leadership style that allows the team to be as strong and dynamic as possible.
I empower my team to express when they disagree with me and presenting new ideas. It is important to have a leadership style that allows the team to be as strong and dynamic as possible.
Her Agenda: Between 2009-2019, the ABA reported that African Americans make up five percent of lawyers in the United States, with African-American women making up an even smaller fraction. How have you been able to maintain your authenticity while navigating a male-dominated field?
Rashida La Lande: My personal belief is that I do not give myself a choice about being authentic. I am who I am and there are people who will respect me and want to work with me and there are people who feel the opposite. With 7 billion people on Earth, I believe if I look around I can find more similarities amongst us. The same thing applies in the corporate environment. I believe I can always find a commonality with someone sitting across the table from me, and I am intentional about finding and acknowledging those things.
I do not give myself a choice about being authentic.
HerAgenda: What role have mentors and sponsors played in shaping your career and perspectives?
Rashida La Lande: At my first law firm job as a summer associate I had no idea what to do. I could do the work, but I did not know how to interact with other associates or partners. I attended a work event, and at one point I was standing in the corner and a senior partner comes over to me and mentions the New York Knicks. Because I was such a fan growing up, I started dialoguing with this senior partner, having an animated conversation. Another partner who I had been working with noticed the conversation, and he shared with me at a later time that he originally thought I was a lost cause, but decided to give me another chance once he saw me engaging with the senior partner. He ended up being a significant mentor and sponsor for me. I did not start off being extremely comfortable with myself or my skills. However, with the support and push overtime, the confidence came.
Her Agenda: In thinking about mentors and sponsorship, how important has it been to understand the give and take aspect of the relationship?
Rashida La Lande: A mentor or sponsorship relationship is symbiotic where both people are benefiting. In thinking about my strongest mentor relationship, I would go out of my way to do greater than my best work. I always made sure they looked good for their clients, partners, and representatives in any way I could assist them. With that they always returned the favor.
Her Agenda: For aspiring lawyers and new lawyers, what are the skill sets that have helped you succeed as an attorney.
Rashida La Lande: First, I truly believe there is nothing hard work cannot overcome. When a person has a willingness to put their head down and achieve a goal, even if it takes longer, more effort, eventually they will reach the goal. I would tell people to have that confidence in themselves. For new lawyers I cannot stress enough on how attention to detail is critical. When I was a new lawyer, every word I wrote was scrutinized by senior associates. Minor errors, especially typos in documents are ways where people lose a little faith in your work. I believe focusing on the little things is how you gain responsibility and credibility. If you understand that even though you are doing what seems like tedious work today, if you do it right, greater opportunities will come your way.
Her Agenda: How have you found purpose?
Rashida La Lande: For me, I find purpose in whatever work is put in front of me. If you find purpose in it, there is purpose in it.
HerAgenda: What is a motto you live by?
Rashida La Lande: In the words of Beyoncé, “I dream big, I work hard, I grind til’ I own it.”
[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]