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The Black General Counsel Project: Entergy’s Marcus Brown

Dec. 15, 2020, 11:01 AM

The increasing importance of “environmental, social, and governance” considerations for companies and investors may help continue to boost the number of Black general counsel in corporate America, according to Marcus Brown, the executive vice president and general counsel of Entergy Corp.

“The trickle-down impact of this new governance mindset could be more diverse boards and consequently, the selection of more diverse CEOs and other executive leaders. This could potentially open the door for more opportunities for Black executives—including GCs,” Brown said in a recent Bloomberg Law survey.

Black general counsel now make up over 5% of all general counsel in the Fortune 1000, a significant milestone tracked by the Black General Counsel 2025 Initiative and first reported by Bloomberg Law. We reached out to over 50 Black legal chiefs whose companies were in the Fortune 1000 in 2019 or 2020 to learn more about their careers and diversity at the top of the legal industry and heard from 39 of them.

Brown joined the New Orleans-based energy company in 1995 and was promoted to general counsel at Entergy in 2012. Prior to that, he worked for Stone Pigman Walther Wittmann LLC.

These responses have been edited for clarity and length.

Bloomberg Law: What are some key matters you and your team are working on right now?

Marcus Brown: As the electric utility for nearly three million customers in a four-state region, Entergy is always working to provide safe, reliable, and affordable service. Beyond the legal team’s areas of traditional work, there are three specific areas I’d like to highlight where we are deeply involved in supporting the business: (1) enhancing our infrastructure in ways to provide customers with more solutions to meet their specific needs; (2) driving innovation through KeyString Labs, Entergy’s innovation center that serves as an idea and new business incubator; and (3) the continued modernization of our fleet to lower carbon emissions while we meet the varied needs of our residential, commercial and industrial customers.

BL: What’s the best leadership advice you’ve gotten, from mentors or others?

MB: This advice relates to building strong teams. When you hire people, look for candidates who have these three things—smart, hardworking and the right values. This is the raw material of good employees and strong leaders. If any one of these attributes is shown to be missing, you probably have the wrong person.

BL: What advice would you give to lawyers who want to go in-house?

MB: Beyond developing a high level of subject matter expertise in your specific area of practice, a lawyer who wants to go in-house should work to understand the business they hope to support. Understand the company’s strategy—how products are created and sold, the industry, and the competitive landscape. Routinely listening to a company’s financial earnings call and reading its annual report are good ways to get grounded in what a company views as important.

BL: What do you wish you knew at the beginning of your career that you know now?

MB: The importance of listening. It seems so simple, but you learn so much more when you are not talking. Also, encouraging others to offer their ideas and opinions, especially as a leader, can lead to uniquely positive outcomes.

BL: Why do you think the number of Black general counsel has been on the rise? Have you observed any changes in the past few years that have contributed to recent increases in representation?

MB: There are many factors that are contributing to the incremental rise in the number of Black general counsel. I will offer two thoughts:

One emerging driver for adding diversity to the GC ranks is an outgrowth of the emergence of Environmental, Social and Governance or Sustainability. As stakeholders, especially investors, focus more closely on the “S” or “Social” and “G” or “Governance” components of ESG, it has resulted in greater scrutiny on the composition of boards of directors and executive teams. Factors like race, age, tenure on the board, gender, and relevant skills are forcing boards to look for people who more fairly reflect their stakeholders. The trickle-down impact of this new governance mindset could be more diverse boards and consequently, the selection of more diverse CEOs and other executive leaders. This could potentially open the door for more opportunities for Black executives—including GCs. This still must play out, but early signs give me some reason for cautious optimism.

A second reason for growth in the number of Black GCs is the inevitable emergence of talent. In the end, companies want to be successful. Black lawyers who have demonstrated their ability to build great teams, drive performance and achieve positive outcomes are starting to get a shot on the bigger stage. There is a lot of untapped talent out there and smart companies recognize that you want all the talent you can get and at all levels. Talent doesn’t have a race, gender, religion, sexual orientation—talent is talent…you get the point.

BL: When you’re looking to hire outside counsel, how does diversity come into play in your evaluation of law firms?

MB: Entergy’s goal is to become the premier utility in our industry. The strategy to achieve this goal is grounded in three principles: Customer Centricity; Continuous Improvement; and Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DIB).

Given that DIB is important to us, it is equally important that the companies we partner with to provide services share our same values. We have a diverse in-house legal department. Therefore, our lawyers expect to work with diverse outside lawyers as well. Additionally, through our supply chain organization, we have a supplier diversity program that helps drive locating, selecting, and supporting diverse talent. We also track the metrics in this area, so the progress does not get lost.

Finally, and this is more personal, I, along with many members of my leadership team, have a long tenure with the company and in the communities where we operate. We each know talented and capable diverse lawyers both professionally and personally. People are very comfortable hiring talented lawyers and law firms they know they can trust.

BL: What opportunities or changes has the pandemic brought to your job and your team?

MB: The Covid-19 pandemic has been the biggest disruptor and facilitator of change that I have seen in many years. Some of the changes include remote work and the associated challenges, the financial impact on companies and the lives of their employees, and the interrelated emergence of the social justice movement. The opportunities relate to new efficiencies in how we work and the potential for new and meaningful solutions that can come from an honest and committed effort by everybody, including corporations, to successfully manage the impact of historical racial discrimination.

Questions by Ruiqi Chen and Lisa Helem.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ruiqi Chen in Washington, D.C. at rchen@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com;
Lisa Helem at lhelem@bloombergindustry.com

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