General Counsel Q&A: Training and Education Help Us Support Our Business Partners, says Kelly Mahon Tullier of Visa Inc.

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Kelly Mahon Tullier, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of Visa Inc., recently spoke with Thomson Reuters’ Practical Law The Journal: Transactions & Business (PLJ) about the value of training and education for her team and the best advice she ever received.

PLJ: What are the top goals or areas of focus for the legal department?

Mahon Tullier: Given our innovative and evolving industry, we are constantly entering into new geographies and launching new products that have expansive regulatory profiles. As such, we have doubled down on training and education throughout the past few years to ensure that we have the capability to support our business partners. In addition, we have increased our use of sophisticated technology to enable efficiency across the business. Finally, we are focused on ensuring we are a truly inclusive and diverse team.

PLJ: How does the legal department avoid being perceived as the “office of no” while still ensuring it helps the client avoid liability?

Mahon Tullier: As a team, our vision involves legal and compliance leadership that is reflected in the “3Ps” — Proactive Partners who Protect. With the amount of innovation, change, and potential disruption in our industry, it is imperative that we remain proactive by forecasting opportunities and risks, and then developing strategies to guide our growth. As partners with our business colleagues, we pride ourselves on always having a seat at the table.

The real magic in our profession is created when legal and compliance experts are equally business people. Lastly, our gatekeeping responsibility means we must work through complex issues with our business partners, and not only evaluate if something is legal, but also protect the company’s values and overall business strategy.

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Kelly Mahon Tullier, GC of Visa Inc.

PLJ: What three things does a law firm need to do to impress you?

Mahon Tullier: 1. I rely on outside counsel when I need attorneys who have greater knowledge and experience in a particular area of the law than I do. This expertise can add real value to a project.

  1. We expect diverse outside counsel teams and appreciate the knowledge and perspective they bring to every situation.
  2. I take note when outside counsel demonstrate a strong willingness to learn. We hire outside counsel for their knowledge about a specific area of law, but it speaks volumes when they truly dig deep to learn about our complex business.

PLJ: If not an attorney, what would you wish to be?

Mahon Tullier: I would be a teacher. I enjoy delving into new concepts and breaking them down into digestible pieces for others. I would love to be able to do that with young people and promote their ongoing intellectual curiosity.

PLJ: What is your favorite book?

Mahon Tullier: To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is and will always be my favorite book. I admired Atticus Finch so much, and I wanted to be an attorney because of that book.

PLJ: What is the best career advice you have ever received?

Mahon Tullier: When I was a junior attorney, my former boss, Larry Thompson, told me that my greatest strength was that I was like a sponge because I would quickly soak up new problems and get them solved, and that I should always remain that way. This advice resonated with me because jobs in the legal field require you to frequently pivot from one area of the law to another, and new business challenges appear constantly. You have to be able to quickly jump in and get it done.

PLJ: What advice would you give to a prospective General Counsel?

Mahon Tullier: You must be a great business partner to your CEO and Executive Committee colleagues to jointly accomplish the company’s goals. You must also think like a director, so you can effectively serve the board. Finally, you must develop and implement plans to hire, structure, and coach to bring out the very best in your team.


Read the full interview in the August/September 2019 issue of Practical Law The Journal: Transactions & Business.

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