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The Black General Counsel Project: U.S. Steel’s Duane Holloway

Dec. 15, 2020, 11:01 AM

Duane Holloway, the general counsel of United States Steel Corp., said he values outside firms that have shown a commitment to diversity.

“Like most companies, when hiring outside counsel, we are looking for the best talent that fits our needs for the matters at hand. And we firmly believe that we get better outcomes with diverse viewpoints in all facets of the business, including outside counsel engagement,” Holloway 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.

Holloway joined U.S. Steel, based in Pittsburgh, in 2018 as senior vice president, general counsel, chief compliance officer, and corporate secretary. Later that year, he also took on the role of chief ethics officer. Before that, Holloway worked for women’s clothing company Ascena Retail Group Inc. as executive vice president and general counsel.

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?

Duane Holloway: U. S. Steel is in the midst of working towards achieving our “Best of Both” strategy (best of integrated and mini-mill steelmaking) and the legal team is working hard to help the company accomplish its goals in various areas of the business. We also have been and remain instrumental in protecting U. S. Steel lives and livelihoods during this pandemic. Our sense of creativity and agility have been key to us not skipping a beat in our service to our internal clients during this topsy-turvy year.

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

DH: Trust your team. It takes time and effort to build trusting relationships, but successful leaders do just that. Effective leaders must be able to delegate and let others achieve, develop, and learn from failures and successes. No leader can or should “do it all” himself or herself. And if there are team members one cannot trust because they lack capability, integrity, or alignment, then address or make a change. Trust is too important to go without it.

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

DH: Become well-educated about the business and industry and learn to “speak the language” of the industry. Those who best succeed in-house are rarely thought of, these days, as “the lawyer,” but instead, as the “legal and business adviser.” Knowing the law and being able to apply the law to a narrow set of facts is not enough. The best in-house lawyers understand the business context of the legal issues, generate pragmatic solutions, and communicate in a manner that is concise and understood by all business stakeholders.

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

DH: I wish I knew there is no one definition of, or pathway to, success. Sometimes, the early so-called “stars,” who are laser-focused, limit their own trajectory by being so narrowly focused. And sometimes, those who feel lost and are looking for a path, become well-rounded successes later on.

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?

DH: Black legal talent has long been available and Black leaders like Michele Coleman Mayes paved the way many years ago. It’s just that, until fairly recently, companies did not open many more doors for Black lawyers than they did immediately following the initial trailblazers. A mass of companies has finally become more focused on actually increasing the diversity of its executive ranks, not just talking about it. I believe, as more stakeholders acknowledge and witness the business benefits of diversity, and demand diversity in the C-suite, more companies are listening and acting.

The general counsel role is one of the executive positions where more boards, CEOs and CHROs [chief human resource officers] are widening their searches to be more inclusive of the talent that is out there. We are not yet seeing that happen as much for the CFO and P&L [profit & loss] lead roles, let alone CEO and board appointments. I believe we need progress in placing talented Black leaders in those roles to truly make inclusion part of the DNA of companies.

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

DH: Like most companies, when hiring outside counsel, we are looking for the best talent that fits our needs for the matters at hand. And we firmly believe that we get better outcomes with diverse viewpoints in all facets of the business, including outside counsel engagement. Therefore, with new engagements, we seek out law firms that have diverse lawyers in leadership roles who will actively represent us. Furthermore, we make it clear in our outside counsel guidelines that we expect our outside counsel to recruit, retain, and promote women, minorities, and other diverse professionals.

And when evaluating, and periodically re-evaluating, our selection of outside counsel, we consider the outside counsel’s demonstrated commitment to, and track record regarding, inclusion and diversity in our matters and throughout the firm. As an example of our demonstrated commitment, we have completed two sizable RFPs this year for new engagements, and one winner’s relationship partner is Black, with terrific diversity throughout the representation team, and the other is a woman, also with an impressively inclusive team.

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

DH: The legal team and I have safely worked remotely for the majority of the year and, while it presents challenges, we have adapted well. Our productivity has increased and we have maintained a sense of collaboration. And many of us have been able to experience more quality time with our families during break times and what would normally be commute times. I expect that we will work in this manner in many ways for the foreseeable future.

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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