Susan S. Lanigan (ABJ ’84; JD ’88) stands on the top rung of the legal department corporate ladder. As executive vice president and general counsel for Dollar General Corporation, she has earned membership within a select group. A tiny percentage of the general counsels employed by Fortune 500 companies are women – numbering about 70 nationwide.
Lanigan never mentions this nor any of her achievements – she prefers to discuss favorite books or writers. She has a decided preference for Harper Lee over other writers with legal backgrounds, such as John Grisham.
Lanigan worked briefly as a writer herself at the Oconee Enterprise and might have taken a different path altogether if not for a cousin’s influence.
What would Lanigan have students know? “That school is so much more than a way to get from point A to point B.” She pauses before adding lawyerly advice:
Unlike Lanigan, the majority of her female legal counterparts are “come latelys.” Most have taken their roles in recent years, according to legal statistics. Since graduating from UGA law school, Lanigan has been upwardly mobile, beginning as a litigator in the Atlanta firm Troutman Sanders. On paper, her career looks like an ascending missile that never misses the mark.
Last year, Lanigan was appointed the first chair of UGA’s new Graduate School Advancement Board.
“Susan Lanigan combines so many attributes - including her great love of Athens and UGA, her wonderful personal presence, and her extraordinary vision - into a great leader for this historic board,” observes Craig Edelbrock, professor and associate dean of the Graduate School.
Lanigan says she won’t miss a meeting – she vows to bring the same focus to the board that she brings to law. Prior to joining Dollar General, Lanigan spent six years serving as senior vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary for Zale Corporation in Irving, Texas. Lanigan presently manages an army of attorneys while overseeing Dollar General’s risk management, media relations, corporate communications, internal audit and community initiatives departments.
Her office offers a sweeping view of the Smoky Mountains surrounding the corporate campus. Dollar General’s headquarters occupy a hilltop in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, 30 miles from Nashville. From here, she reflects on the formative UGA experiences that helped shape her. She recalls her college years, even the salad days of law school, as “luxurious.” Both Lanigan and her husband are “double dawgs” who return to Athens for sports and visits. Gregory Alan Lanigan, (BS, ’85; MEd, ’87) played UGA baseball. He is fiercely loyal, Lanigan smiles.
She glances out the window; nearly 300 miles beyond lies the Athens campus.
“I know it’s bigger, but I was in Athens eight straight years, and it still seems the same to me when I go there. The old campus is still intact.”
The quaint older portions of the campus remind Lanigan of married housing on East Campus.
“I remember cinderblock walls, and that you couldn’t get two people in the kitchen,” she recalls with a grimace that becomes a grin. The couple enjoyed visits to former gathering spots like O’Malley’s and Cooper’s, and inexpensive meals at a “wonderful Jewish Chinese deli called Chow Goldstein’s.”
Immediately following her graduation, Lanigan began working at the Oconee Enterprise, while her husband continued graduate studies. “I loved journalism.”
Meanwhile, Lanigan’s cousin Keith Mull (JD, ’87) prodded the young journalist “to give law school a shot.” On impulse, she accepted Mull’s challenge and took the LSAT.
“Of course I wanted to be Atticus Finch (of To Kill a Mockingbird),” she confesses.
In law school, Lanigan excelled once again, earning her law degree magna cum laude. She went to work for Troutman Sanders on an historic trial concerning CNN’s right to air tape recordings of Panamanian General Manuel Noriega. The firm lost the highly publicized case, but Lanigan was motivated and challenged by the experience.
Although career achievements have been a lodestar, Lanigan values motherhood above all. “When all is said and done, I am all about my husband and my children.”
The progressive company she represents has on-site daycare and a fitness center and maintains a family-oriented culture. Lanigan values family; she deferred motherhood until her 30s and savors the experience of raising her children, Drew and Alex. She also values and nurtures relationships. Her three closest friendships were forged during UGA law school days.
Lanigan’s computer signals as e-mails come in; phone messages wait. She offers her business card and asks for reading recommendations. She reads Ann Patchett and Maya Angelou for pleasure whenever life allows.
Characteristically, Lanigan resumes the normal life of a working mother, albeit high on the corporate ladder.