At a Glance
Sydney, Australia; London; New York City; and Singapore
Integrated property development and management
So, what led you into the legal side of the construction industry?
Linda Christensen-Sjogren: I started out as an attorney working on Wall Street, then went to InterContinental Hotels, ending up as senior corporate counsel. When the company relocated to London, I didn’t want to move my family, so I took a job as general counsel at Tishman Hotels Corporation, which at the time owned four hotels. Since InterContinental was managing 104 hotels at the time, I quickly got bored [at Tishman] and went to the president of the affiliated construction firm and asked who did the construction arm’s legal work. He said, “We generally do it ourselves.”
He just agreed to let you do it?
LCS: Well, he laughed and told me to go down to one of the high-rise projects—which the company was renovating—and come back and tell him how I liked it. I was really nervous about going on the hoist, being a white-shoe attorney with a three-piece suit and a bow tie at the time. But I didn’t let on that I was scared. I came back and said, “Yeah, no problem.”
Why did you leave Tishman for Lend Lease?
LCS: I was at Tishman for almost 20 years and loved it. But everything was running so smoothly that I got bored. Lend Lease presented a challenge, as they were looking for someone to redo the legal function.
You were recently promoted from general counsel to chief ethics and compliance officer. What’s the difference?
LCS: As general counsel of Lend Lease [US] Construction, I oversaw the attorneys who were negotiating contracts. When a problem arose, I’d talk with Tom Tether, general counsel of Lend Lease Americas, or the CEO. But, in that role, I couldn’t really create change. In compliance, on the other hand, which is a relatively new field in the construction arena, I’m at the forefront of creating programs and making sure the guys in the field, boots on the ground, buy into them.
Linda Christensen-Sjogren: Career Timeline
1970: Graduates from high school after three years to save money
1974: Graduates from Vassar, which she attended on a full scholarship
1975: Completes a one-year Maguire Fellowship for graduate study abroad (in Old English and paleography at the University College London)
1978: Graduates from law school at Fordham University, the only one to which she applied—because the application fee was only $10
1978-1980: Works as an associate at Mudge, Rose, Guthrie and Alexander, a Wall Street law firm
1980-1981: Works as inside counsel for Pan American World Airways and InterContinental Hotels (Pan Am’s wholly-owned subsidiary) in New York
1981-1988: Takes time off to have children, with brief interludes working as an associate at Pitney Hardin Kipp & Szuch and Beattie Padovano, both in New Jersey
1989-1990: Leaves private practice to join InterContinental Hotels as senior corporate counsel until the company’s move to London
1990-2010: Works as senior vice president and general counsel at Tishman Construction Corporation and Tishman Hotel Corporation
2010: Moves to Lend Lease as general counsel of Lend Lease (US) Construction Holdings
2012: Becomes senior vice president and chief ethics and compliance officer for Lend Lease Americas
What are some of the programs you’re working on?
LCS: We’re doing training for the entire United States and Latin America, some just for management, some for everyone working on a particular project, to show what they’re supposed to do to comply with their contract and with the relevant laws and how they’re supposed to report. Our people want to do the right thing, but we need to make sure they understand what they need to do. That’s particularly important in connection with the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the UK Bribery Act, which are fairly new to our region. We’re also training around the Davis Bacon Act, which relates to government contracting. We’re extremely interested in having everyone in the organization understand how to work successfully with minority- and women-owned enterprises and urban-zone enterprises.
Is that all up to you?
LCS: We have online testing for ethics, but my associate counsel [for] compliance, Emme Thompson, and I go from project to project and provide in-person training all over the country. We’re hiring someone to manage the utilization of minority-business enterprises throughout the United States. In every major office, we’ve hired or are hiring someone to assist with supplier diversity programs. With regard to the utilization of minority-business enterprises, people in the construction industry often get themselves in trouble when they try to be helpful and don’t allow the minority entity to learn how to do the work themselves. The purpose of supplier diversity is just that—to teach the minority businesses to do the work themselves. As the old saying goes, “Give someone food, and they eat today; teach someone how to farm, and he or she eats forever.” Our goal is to train farmers.
You seem passionate about the job.
LCS: I think compliance is the wave of the future. In the past, construction companies, including Lend Lease, made a commitment to safety. Now we’ve made a similar commitment to compliance. When we do a job, we’re going to make sure we do it the right way—not only to the letter of the law but in the spirit of the law.
You also have outside counsel to assist you, correct?
LCS: Oh, yes. We’re very much helped by McKenna Long [& Aldridge LLP]; Weil, Gotshal & Manges; Peckar & Abramson; and Watt, Tieder, Hoffar & Fitzgerald, LLP. We also work a lot with Artie Semetis, who has his own firm, who’s always there when we need him. All add more than value; they add value plus. Peckar & Abramson and Watt, Tieder have even come forward and loaned us attorneys when we’ve been shorthanded.
Do you feel that reaching your current post was challenging because of your gender?
LCS: I graduated from law school in 1978, and I was, as far as I know, the first woman construction general counsel in the New York area. It was a very different world for women in construction. I remember giving sexual-harassment training early on, and I was naïve enough to believe it when one of the employees told me that the guys were shy and would prefer a question box. When I saw the nature of the first three questions—inappropriate to say the least—I laughed but said, “Guys, this is what this seminar is all about. You just can’t do things like this.” It’s different now, though. People from the top down are dedicated to giving everyone—not just women but also minorities—a fair chance. I’m delighted by it.
What advice would you give to others seeking to follow in your footsteps?
LCS: Don’t go in with a chip on your shoulder. Assume everyone will treat you fairly. I think, generally speaking, they do. But if they don’t, take them aside and tell them what you perceived. Only then do you go above them. But personally, I’ve never had to do that. People want to do the correct thing, and sometimes they just don’t know what that is. For example, one of the oddest compliments I ever had was from a client from the Middle East who initially had been reluctant to deal with a woman attorney. At the end of our negotiations, he told me, “You’re like a man in a woman’s suit.” His heart was in the right place, but he clearly didn’t have a compliance person to train him how to express that. ABQ