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The Finest Corporate Counsels In Dallas For 2017

The winners and finalists in our eighth annual program handle ever-increasing workloads with skill and aplomb.

Grappling with evolving, often-overreaching regulatory and compliance requirements. Dealing with corporate restructuring issues. Taking on new responsibilities with multiple departments. Successfully navigating bet-the-company lawsuits.

No doubt about it: today’s corporate counsels have their hands full skillfully tackling more and more exacting and important tasks. But, just how busy they’ve become came into sharp focus as we pored over the many nominations—twice what we received last year!—for this, our eighth annual Corporate Counsel Awards program.

Whether winners or finalists, three participants in particular in this year’s competition had such compelling stories about their “finest hours,” we decided to explore each of them in more detail on the following pages. We also asked each of our winners to tell us about their greatest professional accomplishments.

Busy and composed counsels, indeed.

Bradley Adams:
At the Intersection of Grief and Hope

Spend five minutes with Bradley Adams, senior vice president, chief administrative officer, and general counsel of Southwest Transplant Alliance, and you’ll find that his passion for the cause of organ donation is contagious. After all, as he is quick to point out, the numbers tell a sobering story. “Last year, there were approximately 33,600 organs transplanted nationwide, with about 3,100 of those in Texas,” Adams says. “Yet there are nearly 120,000 Americans on waiting lists for organs, including 3,000 Texans, and last year more than 400 Texans died while waiting for an organ transplant.” But Adams remains optimistic. The number of organ transplants is on the rise, he says, increasing about 20 percent to 25 percent from last year, while the numbers of those dying while on the waiting list gradually goes down.

Dallas-based Southwest Transplant Alliance is the organ procurement process organization designated by Medicare to manage the organ donation and procurement across roughly a third of Texas. A substantial part of Adams’ job involves staying ahead of the evolving regulatory framework that “not only governs our work, but also makes it possible in the first place.”

That work poses plenty of challenges, including overcoming resistance from or ignorance by other stakeholders. By way of illustration, Adams—a former CPA turned lawyer—cites a recent case in Temple in which a local justice of the peace was holding up the organ donation process because he felt it would interfere with the J.P.’s investigation of the donor’s cause of death. Although a justice of the peace technically has that power legally, according to Adams, in this case it wound up involving the local district attorney and culminated in an operating room showdown. “We were in the operating room in Temple with transplant surgeons who had flown in from Dallas and Houston,” Adams recalls. “With potential recipients waiting, including one who had about 12 hours to live, we were prepared to proceed with recovering the organs. With the justice of the peace, the district attorney, and the criminal investigators in the OR with us, we were ultimately able to convince them that their investigation wouldn’t be compromised, and the organ recovery was allowed to go forward,” Adams says. That one procedure recovered the donor’s heart, lungs, liver, and pancreas, and saved six lives of recipients scattered throughout Texas.

Adams’ blueprint for success at Southwest Transplant Alliance, he says, calls for “staying on offense, through our ongoing education efforts, our quality control process, and enhancing and increasing the public’s trust and understanding.” That trust and heightened public awareness is a big part of why Southwest Transplant Alliance saved 750 lives in Dallas alone last year. As Adams puts it, “We work at the intersection of grief and hope, trying to provide solace at a time of loss.”

(from left to right) Bradley Adams, Bridgett Zeterberg, Stephanie Zapata Moore, Michael Veitenheimer
Billy Surface

Outstanding General Counsel

“Overall, what has been your greatest professional accomplishment?”


Bradley Adams
Southwest Transplant Alliance
“A recent case at Southwest Transplant Alliance that resulted in six lives being saved through transplantation certainly rises to the top of the list.”

Tom Burton, Service King Collision Repair Centers; Stephanie Garcia, Corgan; Julie Lennon, Gaedeke Group


Bridgett Zeterberg
Tuesday Morning Corp.
“In 2014, I was responsible for leading the internal and external legal teams when Zale Corp. was acquired by Signet Jewelers Inc. for
$1.4 billion.”

Stephen Hagedorn, Jani-King International Inc.; James Mutrie, RSP Permian Inc.; Rob Pivnick, Leon Capital Group; Mark Solls, Invitation Homes Inc.


Michael Veitenheimer
Michaels Stores Inc.
“Having served—and survived—almost a dozen different CEOs, I’ve been able to adapt to many different management styles and continue to be an effective counselor.”

Randall Ebner, Exxon Mobil Corp.; Denise McWatters, HollyFrontier Corp./Holly Energy Partners LP


Stephanie Zapata Moore
Vistra Energy Corp.
Specifically, being part of the team—I was GC of Luminant—that successfully defended Luminant against a lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club in 2014.”

Rob Balachandran, Ericsson; Meredith Bjorck, HMS Holdings Corp.; Wm. Stephen Boyd, Baylor Scott & White Health; Mark Shaw, Southwest Airlines Co.

Denise McWatters: Leaning In

For Denise McWatters, the path to her current position as senior vice president, general counsel, chief compliance officer, and secretary for oil and gas giant HollyFrontier Corp./Holly Energy Partners LP was not without its detours. In an era in which women professionals face pressure from all sides in the quest to “have it all,” McWatters abruptly left the practice of law after 13 years and a “brass ring” partnership at the prestigious Locke Lord firm. The reason? Her then-2-year-old son had been diagnosed with leukemia, and McWatters chose to focus on him during what became a three-year course of treatment. (Happily, he’s now 22 and doing well.) McWatters was able to return gradually, resuming her practice on a part-time basis from a home-based office after the three years had passed.

McWatters’ practice quickly grew to full time and eventually returned to the pace and quality that she’d enjoyed before her son’s illness. Her varied background in corporate, lending, and commercial real estate work led construction/design firm The Beck Group to hire her as its first general counsel. Her two-year stint with Beck soon drew the attention of HollyFrontier Corp./Holly Energy Partners LP and, 10 years ago, McWatters joined the Dallas-based energy powerhouse as its first female GC. McWatters advises other women lawyers that “it’s not about being a woman versus a man. It’s about treating all people fairly and helping open doors for people of all genders, races, sizes, and shapes to have equal opportunities and compensation based on the quality of their work.”

Having shattered glass ceilings en route to a coveted spot among Dallas-Fort Worth’s most highly compensated in-house counsels, McWatters is quick to give back. She mentors other professional women and is creating a women’s support group to help HollyFrontier keep female engineers and lawyers in its workforce. At her company, McWatters says, she’s “tried to set examples for others by creating a legal department with diversity and flexible schedules that allow our … employees to have high-level interaction with others, challenging work, and more balanced lifestyles.”

Today, McWatters faces a myriad of challenges that have added to her responsibilities as GC, from coping with regulatory issues involving Renewable Fuel Standards to the recent acquisition of a Canadian company that sells products in 80 countries. But she has never forgotten the example of her grandmother, who once opened a flower shop in Littlefield, Texas. “She held the hands of the widows and widowers who came in, rejoiced in planning each wedding, and always added extra ribbon to bouquets celebrating births,” McWatters remembers. “While flowers and law may appear to have little in common, they are really the same: understand your business and do the right thing.”

(from left to right) Isaac Leventon, Eunice Nakamura, Jennifer Ingram, Wendy Wang
Billy Surface

Outstanding Deputy or Associate General Counsel and In-House Counsel

“Overall, what has been your greatest professional accomplishment?”


Jennifer Ingram
Sally Beauty Holdings Inc.
“Learning how to say no. Learning how to evaluate priorities, set personal boundaries, delegate when appropriate, and decline when necessary has been a long journey.”

John A. Greco, One Technologies LP; Steven Roth, Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation


Isaac Leventon
Highland Capital Management LP
“I led a team of seven law firms across three jurisdictions in a [so-far-successful] fight against a bank that defrauded our mutual fund investors.”

Carolyn Foster, Parkland Health & Hospital System


Wendy Wang
Mary Kay Inc.
“Building legal capability throughout the organization. I established a robust legal team in China, for example. Another aspect of capability reflects in our compliance programs.”

Kenneth Braxton, Texas Health Resources; Clay Scheitzach, Conduent Inc.


Eunice Nakamura
G6 Hospitality LLC
“The direct impact I help make in my company’s business operations wearing the in-house hat. It’s certainly a great accomplishment to help move the needle.”

Allison Levy, AdvoCare; Richard Rosalez, Samsung Electronics America Inc.; Laura Tarantino, Oceans Healthcare Corp.

Burton Brillhart: All The Way to the Top

For Burton Brillhart, the Dallas-based chief legal officer, general counsel, and chief of staff at Varsity Brands, one would think that simply riding herd over day-to-day legal matters for the sports and cheerleading giant would be challenging enough. After all, the company has grown to nearly 10,000 employees—roughly 2,000 of them in North Texas—working for four subsidiaries.

But early into his tenure at Tennessee-based Varsity Brands, Brillhart was faced with a “bet the company” lawsuit that would go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The case was Varsity Brands v. Star Athletica, in which Brillhart’s company accused a rival of copyright infringement for five of its designs on cheerleader uniforms. Brillhart became involved in the case shortly after the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee ruled that the “design elements” on the cheerleader uniforms (like the stripes, zigzags, and chevrons that characterize the outfits) were not protectable, since they couldn’t be conceptually or physically separated from the uniforms themselves. For Varsity Brands, such an outcome was a direct threat to its existence. If the ruling stood, Brillhart observes, “our original works could have [been] opened up for use by any company or person wanting to reproduce them. We could not allow that to happen.”

So, Brillhart and Varsity appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and won. But the fight was far from over, as Star appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court took the case, recognizing that wrapped up in this cheerleader uniform dispute was a fundamental question of copyright law that had become muddled by lower federal courts: can copyright-eligible artwork exist separately from the object it appears on?

Brillhart says the case required a clear strategy and transparency with his board. “It was very important to immediately involve strategic Supreme Court counsel,” Brillhart notes. With the strength of the team and consistent planning, “I was able to convey and convince [the board] of the reasons we believed we would prevail.”

For Brillhart, landing noted appellate lawyer William “Willy” Jay of Goodwin Procter’s Washington, D.C., office as Varsity’s Supreme Court advocate was key. The Harvard grad and veteran of 15 cases before the nation’s highest court was successful in convincing the justices that the principle at stake applies to all artists, and that “copyright law doesn’t ask whether artwork looks better on a dress or a lunchbox.” The court agreed with Jay in a March 2017 decision that, as Brillhart notes, “had far and wide-reaching implications in copyright law.” Jay agrees, saying the decision has changed not only copyright law as applied by the courts, but is also changing “how the Copyright Office itself looks at the question in registering copyrights.”

Now, that’s a result to cheer about.

(from left to right) Carnegie Naidu, Aimee Williams-Ramey, Burton Brillhart, Sandra Phillips Rogers
Billy Surface

Up-and-Comer, Champion of Diversity, Community Service, and Bottom-Line Impact

“Overall, what has been your greatest professional accomplishment?”


Aimee Williams-Ramey
Sabre Corp.
“Making the transition from a litigator in private practice to in-house counsel. The jump was a combination of laying the groundwork and having the right opportunities.”

Mary Jane Broussard, At Home Group Inc.; Whitney Lewis, Carlson Capital LP


Sandra Phillips Rogers
Toyota Motor North America.
“Successfully bringing together Toyota’s sales and manufacturing legal organizations into one department, Toyota Legal One, and then making the move to Plano. This was a total team effort, enabling us to leverage our expertise to provide even better legal services.”


Carnegie Naidu
AT&T Inc.
“My greatest accomplishment is yet to come. However, I had a good year helping one of our client groups put together a [comprehensive] contract template.”

Kenneth Koonce, CitySquare Legal Solutions; Jill Meyer, Hunt Consolidated Inc.


Burton Brillhart
Varsity Brands
“My greatest professional accomplishment is two-fold: Building great teams and mentoring them and watching them lead.”

Shanna Whitley, RMG Networks


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