Podcast: Women @ RopesTalk: Conversation with Anne Garcia, The Ohio State University
In this episode of Women @ RopesTalk, hosted by IP transactions partner Megan Baca, health care partner Torrey McClary interviews Anne Garcia, senior vice president and general counsel of The Ohio State University. Anne talks about how she moved from private practice to in-house roles in universities. In thinking about the last year and a half, Anne discusses how COVID has affected the university and her team. She also reflects on why she is big on incorporating “action” into her office’s diversity and inclusion efforts, and looks forward to some exciting priorities of Ohio State’s president Kristina Johnson.
Megan Baca: Welcome, and thank you for joining us on our latest installment of Women @ RopesTalk, a podcast series brought to you by the Women's Forum at Ropes & Gray. In this podcast, we spotlight extraordinary women who have had successful careers and interesting lives, and are making a positive impact in their workplaces and in their communities. We feature women attorneys at Ropes & Gray in conversation with prominent women clients, industry leaders, entrepreneurs and others, about their careers and what's led to their successes, the challenges they’ve faced, and the hard-earned wisdom they've acquired. I’m Megan Baca, a partner at Ropes & Gray with a practice focusing on intellectual property and technology transactions, and I’m also co-head of the firm’s digital health initiative. I’m based in Silicon Valley. On this episode, I’m joined by my West Coast colleague, Torrey McClary, who’s based in San Francisco. Hi, Torrey—could you please introduce yourself and provide a brief overview of your practice?
Megan Baca: Who’s the special guest that you’ll be interviewing on this episode?
Torrey McClary: On this episode, I will be interviewing Anne Garcia, senior vice president and general counsel of The Ohio State University.
Megan Baca: How did you meet and start working together?
Torrey McClary: I met Anne several years ago when I was in another law firm and she was at another university, and we had the opportunity to work together on a significant transaction. Anne was at Saint Louis University at the time, and the university was doing a very complicated transaction where they were acquiring Saint Louis University Hospital from Tenet, who had bought the hospital about a couple decades earlier. We were purchasing the hospital and contributing it to a new venture that we were forming with SSM Health that was going to involve the construction of a new facility. It was a battle on two fronts—the whole transaction had to come together simultaneously. It ended up being a very successful deal and a really good opportunity to connect with Anne, meet her, be in the trenches with her, and develop a really great working relationship and a really good friendship.
Megan Baca: What are the most noteworthy matters you’ve worked on together?
Torrey McClary: In addition to the matter I just described for Saint Louis University, Anne and I relatively recently worked on a transformative transaction together for The Ohio State University that involved the creation of a statewide—and potentially beyond the state—alliance that was intended to create an affiliation with the largest community hospital system in the state, Bon Secours Mercy Health, in achieving together and working together to solve some of the state’s most pressing health problems, and to achieve some really critical, strategic objectives. We worked together to outline the structure of that relationship and create what ultimately became known as the “Healthy State Alliance.”
Megan Baca: What would you say is most notable about Anne’s career?
Torrey McClary: I think what’s really notable and impressive about Anne’s career is how much she has accomplished at a relatively young age and in a relatively short amount of time. How unlimited she is in her capacity to be curious, to learn, to challenge herself, and to explore new and different opportunities for her career. Her willingness to be a mentor, a supporter, and a leader. I think those are the qualities I’ve seen from the minute I met her, and that I continue to just be incredibly impressed and inspired by Anne. I think the sky is the limit for what Anne will accomplish. I think she is a truly impressive attorney and human being.
Megan Baca: Great. With that, I’ll turn it over to you and Anne.
Torrey McClary: Hi Anne, welcome to our Women @ RopesTalk podcast. Thanks for being here today. Can you give us a little bit of background on yourself, describe your career trajectory, and tell us a little bit about The Ohio State University and your role there?
Anne Garcia: I've been here at The Ohio State University for about six years—it’ll be six years at the end of this year—and I've been the general counsel for two years now. It's a great role. I have the honor of leading on both the legal and compliance organizations with my wonderful partner, the vice president of compliance, Gates Garrity-Rokous, who is really just a fantastic partner and collaborator, who leads our compliance shop. Prior to coming to Ohio State, I was a senior associate general counsel and led the legal team for the health sciences enterprise at Saint Louis University. I also served in the role as chief compliance officer for the university for a number of years there. I think I was at SLU for about seven years, and I held a variety of roles there over litigation and risk, and did transactions and mergers. It's a hodgepodge of a background—not necessarily the usual for an attorney.
I started out my attorney background in private practice in litigation, and came up through the ranks of defense litigation. And like many, I gravitated to a specialty in medical malpractice—I loved that work.
I found it fascinating to work with physicians, nurses, and hospital administrators. Every case was different—you learned the medicine and how to work to understand the medical nuances of every case. After I left private practice is when I went in-house at St. Louis U, and worked closely with the physician practice that was owned by the university there. They had about a 500 FTE physician practice. I managed the risk enterprise and purchased the insurance for their self-insurance program, and then became more heavily involved in the compliance operations and the transactional side. So, I'm a little bit different than a lot of attorneys. Lots of them start out in litigation and stay in litigation, or they start out in the transactional world and stay there. I've dipped my toe in lots of different waters: risk, insurance, litigation, mergers and acquisitions. And then, was fortunate enough to come to Ohio State starting on the health care side and then taking this role on across the entire enterprise. It's been a great experience.
Torrey McClary: When the opportunity arose to take on the role of the university general counsel position and move from the health care GC role, what was it that attracted you to that opportunity, because it was something new and slightly different than what you've been doing in the past?
Anne Garcia: As I have worked at Ohio State, even though I was primarily on the academic medical center side of the house, I had gotten more involved in working across the enterprise with my partners on the university side, whether it had been on investigations, other significant matters, or pieces of litigation. I really liked the work that I was doing across the enterprise, the enterprise-wide perspective. When my predecessor retired and I was asked to become the interim general counsel, candidly, I wasn't sure I wanted the job permanently. I took on the interim role and I was honored to be asked by the president and the board to do that role, but I wasn't sure that the role was for me. I never had ambitions when I came to Ohio State to hold this role—I was certainly very happy on the medical center side. But when I got into the role, number one, I loved the team that I was working with. The people that I am fortunate enough to work with in the Office of Legal Affairs and Compliance are some of the best in the country—they really are experts at what they do. They are wonderful people who are dedicated to their work, they're dedicated to the place. They're also fun people that I would absolutely have in my foxhole with me if I ever needed them there, and they certainly have been there with me at times. Number two, I have really grown to love Ohio State. My husband is the Buckeye in our family—he went to Ohio State, I did not. He tells people he won the marriage when I took the job here, but I really have a special affinity for Ohio State. I had now worked with the board closely and both with the then-president and now the current president, and I really have enjoyed that work. I find something very exciting about working on complex, difficult problems, and strategizing with people to figure out solutions. And working across the entire enterprise, for which part of that is the medical center, was really exciting to me. As I was working through the interim role and then the search began, I really wanted to put my hat in the ring—and I did, and I was fortunate enough to be selected. So, I really enjoy the role. It's hard work. It's hard work every day at a big institution like this. There's never a slow day. Every day is different than what you expect it's going to be, but I really enjoy it.
Torrey McClary: Speaking of hard work, I think that's a great segue to the next question: What is keeping you up at night at work these days?
Anne Garcia: I couldn't talk about the last year and a half without talking about COVID. Being on a college campus with an academic medical center, with a major athletics program—one of the best in the country, if not the best in the country—COVID has been something that we have managed like all higher education institutions, but I think we've done it quite well. The safety of our students, our faculty and our staff has been paramount. It's something that I worry about, it's something that our cabinet worries about, and we take it very, very seriously. I think that we have put a lot of steps in place to promote vaccination. We have required vaccination, and that's been a big part of our COVID efforts. We've put a lot of safety measures in place. We've required masking. We also have taken a lot of safety efforts beyond COVID as we've seen some crime in our near campus neighborhoods. That's been a high priority of our leaders and certainly our president, so that safety focus is very important to us.
Along with that safety, for me particularly, I've been very focused on people's mental health and the care taking that needs to take place. There's a lot that's going on with COVID, and I would say, even a little bit of post-COVID, people are working harder than they have ever worked—they’re doing things faster, better, turning contracts. When we think about legal, frontline health care workers; when we think about our academic medical center, they are teaching classes in a new and different way if it's online. As they're doing innovation and research, and our students are learning and looking for jobs, everything they're doing is really being done in a different way. I think there's more care taking and more focus we need to put on how we take care of each other. Those are the things that keep me up.
Torrey McClary: Speaking just with the theme of COVID, can you talk more specifically about how that's impacted your legal team and how you all engage with each other, and with the broader university, and just in the performance of your job?
Anne Garcia: I think things have changed a lot. Some things will never change, right? When we talk about the provisional legal services for Ohio State, we want to be collaborators. I tell the team consistently, whether it's pre-COVID, post-COVID, we want to be strategists, pathfinders, absolute partners to our clients—that will always remain a constant. We always want to put out an excellent work product with and for them. Things that are different, though—certainly the environment's different. We're one of the biggest legal offices in-house in higher education in the country. Every person in our team, both legal and compliance, was full-time in the office prior to COVID, like many others. Then, when COVID struck in March 2020, we sent everybody home. So, everyone was full-time at home, essentially for more than a year. We brought everyone back in August, and that was really the first time that people were back in a different format. We went to a hybrid model where everyone was offered the opportunity to go, what I describe as “three and two”—they had to be in the office minimally two days a week, and they could be remote three days a week. That has really changed the way that we work, but it's also changed the way we mentor young attorneys.
As you know, Torrey, when you're a more junior experienced attorney, there's a real learning atmosphere. You don't go to law school to learn to be an attorney—you go to law school to learn a way of thinking. And you really learn to be an attorney at the jobs that you work. Part of that is interacting with more senior experienced individuals—walking down the hall, talking through issues, looking at a document or memo together. Just talking through an issue together, you really learn a lot. We don't want to short-change the mentorship of some of our more junior experienced team members. We also want to make sure we're developing them, both the attorneys, paralegals, other staff members, and that we're also giving them opportunities to work across the office and team together on various projects. I think that teaming has really led to some of our best work—and how do we do that effectively? What meetings need to happen in-person versus over a Zoom, Teams or other format electronically? We're trying to figure all of that out like everyone else across the country, but it really has started to change the way that we do things, and also thinking about changing the way that we professionally develop people.
Torrey McClary: The way you describe the challenges of teaching and mentoring the more junior attorneys, I think you put that really well. I think on the flip side, one advantage I've heard about the Zoom phenomenon is that sometimes it actually does give some more junior attorneys access and opportunity to participate in meetings because you're not face constrained by an office or a meeting room. And so, in some cases, it can actually create more access and opportunities for junior attorneys. But obviously, I think the challenges still outweigh the benefits at this point. Sticking with the enterprise and Ohio State, and what you're doing there, what are you excited about and what do you think your role is in supporting The Ohio State University's success?
Anne Garcia: There's so many things I'm excited about. Our president, Kristina Johnson, has been here just over a year, and she is a mover and a shaker. She's got fantastic vision for the institution, so I'm super excited about working with her and seeing that vision really get executed. I think one of the things, as she has come on board and brought members of her cabinet on board, is really innovation. She's added not only members of the team, but vision around innovation. I think keeping a university relevant is really being on the cutting edge of the next thing. I wish I could say that I'm one of those people that's on the cutting edge of the next thing—I am not one of those people, but I am happy to help execute that vision for all of the creative, entrepreneurs out there, and I think it's really fun to be part of that. I love to be at the table strategizing and collaborating on those types of things. We have a wonderful innovation district that's going up on our west campus—it’s really an anchor to the entire city of Columbus. We're going to attract all kinds of really neat partners. I think that will be fantastic for the university and really an exceptional opportunity for our researchers to do great things with industry. I think that's the cutting edge next step—it’s taking the research out of the lab, out of the classroom, and really partnering with industry and seeing that research being realized, taking the bench research and turning into the life-saving drug, and really having those next discoveries materialize and help the world. We're just a small part of that in legal, but the contracts we execute, the strategies we help to deliver, it's exciting to be part of that.
Torrey McClary: That sounds fantastic, and definitely understand why you're excited about all of that. It sounds incredible. Shifting gears a little bit to your own personal career trajectory—I have a few questions for you on that topic. Starting with, what attracted you to law in the first place?
Anne Garcia: I don't have any lawyers in my family, my immediate family. My mom was a college professor, my dad was a banker by trade. My mom always told me that I was going to be a lawyer because I liked to talk to people, and I think there's probably some truth to that. She talked to everybody that we ever met, and I think I'm one of those people that kind of had a natural way to strike up a conversation with people, and I wanted to help people. Once upon a time, I thought I was going to be a doctor, and then I met organic chemistry my freshman year of college at Notre Dame and that was the end of that, so I redirected. But I think for me, I really wanted to have a way I could help people, and I think the law, for me, was a way to do it. It probably sounds a little different when I started as a defense litigator, but when I started doing med mal work and would work on these cases, it was meaningful to understand the medicine, and to understand what was going on in the cases, and being able to impact how they were affecting people's lives. For me, I thought my skill set could be helpful to someone else, and that was a big part of what attracted me to the law to begin with.
Torrey McClary: What would you, looking back now, say your biggest career win has been to date?
Anne Garcia: There's been a couple along the way, but I think one of the biggest ones I worked on with you, Torrey. When I was at St. Louis U, we did a big transaction together. At the time that I was there, the university hospital was under separate ownership than the faculty practice. One of the last acts was a team effort, it certainly wasn't just me, but I led the internal team with the help of you and your team on the outside to repurchase the university hospital and then place it into a new transaction. That was really significant because the physicians were extremely hardworking, and they had worked just tirelessly to provide exceptional patient care, but they desperately needed a new hospital. And part of that transaction was to build a new hospital and become part of a new venture with a different hospital entity that was, I would say, similar vision, values, mission-based, like the university. Getting a group of people together, a group of physicians to align around a goal and a concept, that's not an easy task, and these folks did. We got what they were seeking delivered in that deal, and I was very proud of that.
Torrey McClary: I remember that deal very well. That was when we were in the trenches together and became very close friends. I think to this day, the way you approached that transaction in a new area of law for yourself was very inspiring. I think about it often in my own career when opportunities arise and they're a bit outside my comfort zone, and just think, there's a certain kind of person that will rise to the challenge and make things happen and succeed in accomplishing something for their institution. Watching you learn and what you accomplished on that deal was wildly impressive. Let's talk about who has influenced and inspired you in your career. Who would that person be, and what made their role in your career so meaningful?
Anne Garcia: I would say there are two people. I know that I should be giving you one answer, but for me it's both personal and professional. On the personal side, I couldn't not answer this question in this way, which is my mom. And part of that is, I lost my mom this summer and I spent a lot of months after that loss reflecting about her impact on my life, which I couldn't even capture if we had all the hours in the day on this podcast, but she's had such an impact. As a speech communications and public speaking professor, I think so much about my interactions on a daily basis, and as a lawyer, have been driven by her.
On the professional side, I think about a friend and mentor that I worked with at St. Louis U. She was actually the former compliance officer before I took on the mantle—she moved onto a more senior operations role. I think about her as an influence on my career in several different ways. One, she is a fantastic public speaker, witty person, trusted individual, and people always need that trusted, great advisor in their career, and she is definitely that. The other thing that I think about is, she's not a lawyer. I always think about the fact that inevitably when we were working on investigations together, she had had several decades more experience in the investigatory space than I did, and that was fantastic to learn from and be mentored by. But she'd often sit down and tell people, "Don't worry—I'm not a lawyer." And she used that to put them at ease in the room as she was asking them questions or gaining information, and that was one of a thousand things that she did that I learned from that really stuck with me. I think sometimes we forget as lawyers that that kind of creates a dynamic with people, and that we have to get through that dynamic. There's a formalism, a wall that can be created when you carry that moniker. It's important, particularly, when you're doing investigation work that you can build a rapport with people, that you can get to the heart of the issues. So, I think I've worked with some fantastic lawyers who have also influenced my career, but this individual has taught me a lot about learning to build relationships and do investigations, and I think a lot of that has come from her role both in compliance, operations, and, really, her talent with people.
Torrey McClary: I'm realizing I've been fortunate enough to meet the two phenomenal women that you just mentioned. I'm sorry for your loss. And your mother, I have great memories of having dinner with her and her stories from her past. She was a wonderful person, and I know the impact she's had on your life. So, I feel fortunate I got to meet these really, really special people through you. Changing gears a little bit, I think it is interesting you happen to name two women as the greatest influences in your career personally and professionally, but there is a challenge, just to acknowledge reality, with attrition among women in the legal profession. Do you have any thoughts, tips or ideas about how to retain women? And what has worked for you personally in keeping you in law and helping you achieve what you have in the industry?
Anne Garcia: I think the one thing that's worked for me in terms of how I try to make sure I treat the women in my office is, number one, an acknowledgment that I think it's just tougher for women. It's a tougher set of circumstance—you’ve got to do it better, you've got to do it harder, you've got to be super mom while you're also being a super lawyer. I think it's incumbent upon us to support women in law. I think back to when I was a baby lawyer just starting out at the first big law firm I worked for. I was starry-eyed and working for a big senior female partner, thinking this is great—she’s going to mentor me and it's going to be a fantastic relationship. And it was horrible—I don't mean by hard work, I pride myself on being able to work hard—but I think she had been put through a pretty horrible experience in a different time, and she felt she needed to extract that experience out on other young female attorneys, both me and others coming up. That's not something that should happen—I would never want that to happen to my daughter or anyone else. What I have prided myself on for everyone who works in my team, and certainly the women, is that we have an environment of support. I want the women here to feel like they can have a level of work/life balance. I think that we have to have mechanisms to support everybody. Give them time to be with their families. If they don't have kids, with their spouses, their partners, their extended families, whatever it may be. It can't be work, work, work, all the time. That full rich life experience produces the best work. If people are at their wit's end, you don't get the best work out of them. And we learned from having people work at home the whole time, that we saw some of the best work product—the same commitment we always saw from having them work in a different environment.
We have tried to put mentoring programs together both in our office, finding internal mentors. We've also assigned external mentors and, again, that's for everyone. We've also talked to some of the women in our office. How do we foster, particularly, some of the challenges that the women face? And not foster the challenges, but foster them through those challenges. It's just different, in terms of having to plan for being away when you have a baby and returning into the workforce. We've been through some of those things, and how do we help others go through them and fully support them as they have time away, and make sure as they come back, they feel a gentle re-entry and not overwhelmed when they return. So, we try to make sure that this is a place that they want to be, that they want to be long-term, and if there are things they need in terms of help along the way, that we're here to help them. I really want people to be in an environment that is supportive to them, and that's really important to me as the leader of this team.
Torrey McClary: You mentioned what you've done internally within your organization to support women, but I wanted to also mention that personally, what you've done to support my career, including giving me opportunities to support you in your role at Ohio State, including a transaction we did together to create an affiliation between the university and Bon Secours Mercy Health, and bringing me in to work with you on that matter. That gave me an opportunity to contribute, to create teams where I can give opportunities to women to learn and to do exciting fields, and to work with people like you. It's not even just what you're doing internally, but it's also what you're doing externally that is really having an impact and is really meaningful, so I wanted to mention that and thank you for that. What advice do you have for women who are just getting started in their legal careers?
Anne Garcia: It's a great question. I would say, a little bit of what I said earlier—I think you want to make sure you're trying on different things in law. Particularly, as I said, law school teaches you a way to think, it doesn't teach you how to be a lawyer. When you start in your legal career, you may get assigned to a practice group or a different area. Don't be afraid to take on something outside your comfort zone. It's really important that you jump into a variety of things. The first thing you try on is certainly not where you're going to end up, likely, in your career. As I said, I was a litigator, and then I did risk, and then I did compliance, and then I did transactions. And now, in the job that I have, I use all of it—all of it in my day-to-day job. I think it's really important, and I think it was that broad range of skill sets that has really served me well and helped me. That you try all different things that come at you as a young lawyer, and don't be afraid that if you don't know it well, that you can't do it. Again, if you're smart and you work hard, you can do anything. So, I think jump in and try different things on, and you might be surprised, but you'll find something unexpected that you'll like.
Torrey McClary: While on the topic of women, maybe shifting more broadly to diversity and inclusion efforts, is there anything in particular that you're doing or have done at Ohio State regarding diversity and inclusion that you're particularly proud of and would like to share?
Anne Garcia: There are tremendous diversity efforts going on at Ohio State broadly. I would say the one thing that I am particularly proud of in the Office of Legal Affairs is we, like many across the country, put some renewed efforts into our diversity and inclusion efforts about a year and a half ago. This has been a focus for us for a long time, but when I took on the role two years ago as general counsel, it was important to me to refocus the lens on this. We established what we describe as the IDEA committee—it’s inclusion, diversity, equity, and the last letter stands for action—because we didn't want to just talk about inclusion, diversity, and equity issues, we wanted to take some action on it. We have training requirements across the university, for instance, in “Report = Support,” which is our sexual misconduct training that's required across the whole university. We thought to ourselves, that's very important and we all take it and it's mandated, but we don't have a mandated diversity training. And so, we decided within our office in Legal and Compliance, we would require a comparable training in diversity and inclusion. We also established a series underneath this committee called "Coffee Talks," where we would gather and do that on a monthly basis, and really have some very honest, sometimes very difficult, conversations. They were safe spaces that people could come and talk, listen, or do both, and really have honest, thoughtful dialogues. There were great learnings to be had through those conversations, and really was great engagement. Not always easy conversations to be had, but we didn't feel like we would get better as a department around these issues if we were either not talking or just having easy conversations.
Torrey McClary: I like your acronym—I especially like the "A" for action. I think that's great. Anne, thank you so much for your time and for sharing your thoughts. It was such a pleasure catching up with you. And I am really excited to share this podcast with our listeners. Thank you.
Anne Garcia: Thank you. I enjoyed it as well.
Megan Baca: Torrey and Anne, thank you both so much. And as always, thanks to our listeners. For more information about Ropes & Gray's Women's Forum and our women attorneys, please visit www.ropesgray.com/women. You can also subscribe to this series wherever you typically listen to podcasts, including on Apple, Google and Spotify. Thanks for listening.