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Black General Counsel Network Goes Live as Founder Shifts Jobs (Corrected)

Jan. 9, 2020, 5:16 PM; Updated: Jan. 9, 2020, 8:55 PM

The Black General Counsel 2025 Initiative has launched a new online portal designed to help get 100 African American lawyers in chief legal officer or general counsel positions at top companies within the next five years.

April Miller Boise, a former managing partner of Thompson Hine’s Cleveland office, co-founded the Black GC Initiative in 2017 with Ernest Tuckett III, a former general counsel of Dutch chemical giant Akzo Nobel NV’s Americas arm. Tuckett joined Thompson Hine’s Chicago office as senior counsel late last year.

Thompson Hine, Alston & Bird, Beveridge & Diamond, and Cooley are among the law firms supporting Black GC in its effort to increase racial diversity in the upper echelons of corporate America. The portal’s launch this week came as Boise took a new job as executive vice president and general counsel at Eaton Corp. plc, a global power management conglomerate and Thompson Hine client.

Boise, who was not immediately available to discuss her new role or the rollout of Black GC’s online presence, teamed up with Thompson Hine’s Tuckett to assemble an advisory council comprised of African American legal leaders. The group worked to develop tools and a curriculum for young lawyers of color to use with the goal of hitting certain diversity benchmarks.

Diversity Drive

Besides eyeing 100 legal chiefs at Fortune 1000 companies by 2025, Black GC wants to have 50 in place this year. The group is close to the latter goal, as a database on its website of African American general counsel within the Fortune 1000 currently puts the number at 47, including Eaton.

Black GC, whose website includes an additional list of top in-house African American lawyers outside the Fortune 1000, believes that identifying and tracking such appointments will be a useful tool for those looking to further their corporate counsel careers.

“One of the reasons the program has resonated with people is because we are working to cultivate substantive conversations and relationships among black lawyers to drive clear, tangible goals to help move the needle in the C-suite,” Boise said in a statement.

Sonya Olds Som, a former Dykema Gossett lawyer-turned-legal recruiter at search firm Heidrick & Struggles International Ltd. in Chicago, told Bloomberg Law that Boise is a “fantastic GC and terrific leader and advocate” for diverse and aspiring legal chiefs. Som said she has worked with Boise and the Black GC group since its inception, helping organize trainings, events, mentorships, and speaking panels.

Black GC said in a statement that is has worked with its advisory council and other executive recruiters from BarkerGilmore, Korn Ferry, Major Lindsey & Africa, and Spencer Stuart to craft a set of criteria—such as sound judgment, interpersonal skills, and technical legal expertise—that users can reference as they seek to become the next generation of law department leaders.

Black GC hopes to build a pipeline of candidates by offering interested lawyers the ability to submit an application listing their credentials through the website.

Eaton’s Inclusion

Boise will have a homecoming at Eaton, joining the Dublin, Ireland-based company’s North American headquarters in Beachwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. She had been based in Cleveland during her 11 years at Thompson Hine, having once headed the firm’s office there.

Eaton’s structure stems from an $11.8 billion cash-and-stock merger in 2012 between the company, advised at the time by Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, and Irish electrical equipment supplier Cooper Industries plc.

At Eaton, which has 101,000 employees and reported $21.6 billion in sales during 2018, Boise takes over as general counsel from Heath Monesmith, who was elevated last summer to president and COO.

Monesmith, who replaced the retiring Mark McGuire as general counsel in early 2017, earned accolades during his nearly two-year tenure as Eaton’s legal chief for making diversity and inclusion a priority.

The company’s law department, which has about 55 lawyers and 70 support staff, drew praise from the Association of Corporate Counsel for creating a special mentorship program geared toward diverse associates at its outside law firms.

In-House Ascent

Eaton said in a statement that Boise will oversee all of its legal, corporate governance, and compliance functions. She will also advise Eaton’s executive management team—a group that includes former Squire Sanders lawyer Taras “Terry” Szmagala Jr., senior vice president of public and community affairs—and the company’s board of directors.

She joins Eaton after spending a little more than three years as chief legal officer and corporate secretary at Troy, Mich.-based automotive parts supplier Meritor Inc.

Boise’s in-house career began a decade ago when she left Thompson Hine, where she was a member of the firm’s executive committee, to become general counsel at Veyance Technologies Inc.

When that auto parts company was sold in early 2015 to Germany’s Continental AG, Boise became general counsel for Avintiv Inc., a Charlotte, North Carolina-based specialty materials maker that was sold later that year for $2.45 billion to Berry Plastics Group Inc.

Boise then moved to Meritor, which this week tapped vice president and chief intellectual property counsel Scott Confer to replace her as in-house legal chief on an interim basis. Meritor said in a 2018 proxy statement that Boise earned more than $1.6 million in total compensation that year. She also currently owns Meritor stock valued at more than $2 million, according to Bloomberg data.

(Corrects total number of Eaton employees in the 13th paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com

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