Finding a Way to Sit at the Tables
Right out of the law school she loved, Suzanne M. Dressler Brown '94 did the whole suit-and-briefcase law firm thing, doing complex securities law litigation for Willkie Farr & Gallagher in New York. But when Brown and her husband, Tom Brown '94, had their first child in 1997, they realized that full-time law careers for both parents did not match the way they envisioned family life. So Brown off-ramped from her firm.
Nine years and two more children later, she was ready to on-ramp into the workforce again, but she wanted a job with more flexibility and meaning. In 2006, Brown was hired to organize special events for the not-for-profit Children's Specialized Hospital Foundation in New Jersey, which supports the largest pediatric rehabilitation hospital in the country. In 2009, she was promoted to the handling of major gifts and planned giving.
Brown has produced high-level fundraising events and initiated a major gift and planned giving program. She finds her law training to be particularly helpful in negotiating contracts for events and in working with trust and estates attorneys, but stresses that Cornell Law School gave her the whole package.
"Cornell Law School prepared me so well-I have confident public speaking, negotiation, contracts, and organizational skills," says Brown. "You can become whatever you want with a law degree."
"Just as in the practice of law, in fundraising you need to be able to interact with people from very diverse backgrounds," says Philip Salerno III, president and chief development officer of the Children's Specialized Hospital Foundation. "Suzanne does this extremely well and can make donors and prospective donors comfortable in a very short period of time. She is also an excellent negotiator. Having someone on staff who can take a preliminary look at contracts is a real asset."
Development also meets her need to make a difference. "At my current position, I get to affect change," says Brown. "I sit in high level meetings and we get to decide policy. At my big law firm I was never able to sit at the table like that."
And anyway, there's a table that's still just as important to her for the time being-the dinner table. She's found a profession that allows her to be home for supper every night, listening to her kids. In a few years, when they're out of the house, she can see her career accelerating again. But for now, she's reinvented herself into who she wants to be.