Elizabeth Weathers-Nguyen on Corporate Caring

Elizabeth Weathers-Nguyen of MoneyGram International emphasizes the importance of treating people well and making employees feel valued

People remember how they’re treated. Whether positive or negative, your personal interactions become some of your most powerful memories. And to MoneyGram International’s Associate General Counsel Elizabeth Weathers-Nguyen, those memories are so meaningful that her entire career trajectory has been shaped around them.

“I hated pretty much everything about my first job at a big law firm,” Weathers-Nguyen remembers. “It was nothing like I thought being a lawyer would be, and I never felt valued as a person. One of the senior partners at the firm told my first-year associate class that we should understand that we are but ‘fungible goods’ to them. I have carried that memory with me throughout my career.”

Elizabeth Weathers-Nguyen, Associate General Counsel, MoneyGram International Photo by Andrew Nguyen

After three years of feeling like she couldn’t learn or grow, Weathers-Nguyen left the firm for an associate position with Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold’s Dallas office. Immediately, Weathers-Nguyen says, it was “night and day. I was a human being again.” Every single partner was somebody she could respect, she says, and people there took the time to help her answer questions and manage problems.

“I loved working with them, even when things were tough. About two years after I started, I got very sick and ended up in the hospital for almost a month,” Weathers-Nguyen says. “Every single day, people from Sedgwick came to my room with breakfast or lunch and sat with me. No one asked them to do that. But everyone, from the senior partners all the way down, just kept coming. We were a family.”

Since then, Weathers-Nguyen has made a point of only working at companies where employees are truly valued. That’s what drew her to an in-house role at JCPenney in 2010—and to MoneyGram five years later. “MoneyGram wasn’t the best offer I got in terms of the compensation or job title,” Weathers-Nguyen explains. “But as soon as I met the legal team, I knew that they were people I wanted to work with. I can grow here. I can be a mentor here; I can help people.”

At MoneyGram, Weathers-Nguyen’s philosophy of treating people well plays into her everyday work. As head of global employment law, she is responsible for the company’s employee- and contractor-related legal problems. Those duties range from talent acquisition and recruiting to employee contracts and disputes, meaning that no matter what Weathers-Nguyen works on, she sees the real-life impact of how people choose to interact.

Legal Counsel Adam Brzeziński Sr., who works within MoneyGram’s employment department in Warsaw, Poland, says, “Elizabeth inspires others and makes employees want to go an extra mile for her, thanks to her attitude. One could say this might be even seen as a problem—I will never be happy working for someone else. Clearly, she has really limited my career options!”

That work can be challenging at times, Weathers-Nguyen admits. MoneyGram has employees in thirty-nine countries and contractors in even more, and each country has its own legal entity—or even two or three. “I actually put together a monthly legal training program when I came to MoneyGram because we have so many people working on so many different things, and they don’t necessarily know all of the rules,” Weathers-Nguyen says. “People ultimately want to do the right thing. They just have to know what the right thing is.”

Weathers-Nguyen has also spearheaded a “shredding and digitizing” initiative to improve the legal department’s efficiency. Sorting through paperwork, removing old records, and integrating the remaining documents into an online database proved a huge cost saver. But instead of relegating the work to secretaries or paralegals, she gathered the entire legal department for a day dedicated to cleaning up and organizing records—and eating pizza and tacos.

“If you have the opportunity, it doesn’t hurt to be kind. And it’s not hard to be kind.”

“I actually gave myself an asthma attack from all the dust we stirred up,” Weathers-Nguyen laughs. “But we found so many documents that we had been wondering about and were able to answer a lot of long-standing questions.”

But Weathers-Nguyen isn’t stopping at helping her legal team. “I ask myself, ‘What are we doing right?’ and ‘How are we looking out for our people?’” she says. “But I also wonder how we’re looking out for our community and how we’re respecting our planet. We need to be asking ourselves all of those things if we want to go about our work responsibly.”

To that end, Weathers-Nguyen has headed company-wide pro bono programs and helped build a corporate social responsibility program that allows employees to volunteer two days a year with full pay. Those two days can be spent at PTA or MoneyGram Foundation events, the food bank—or whatever is most meaningful to individual employees.

It makes a huge difference to MoneyGram employees, Weathers-Nguyen says, to know that the company cares about this work.

“If you have the opportunity, it doesn’t hurt to be kind. And it’s not hard to be kind,” Weathers-Nguyen says. “That’s why I went to law school in the first place, because I wanted to be a lawyer who makes a difference. And my job does make a difference—it makes a difference to every single person who works at MoneyGram, and it gives me a platform to make a difference for others.”

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Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP:

“Elizabeth is a true thought leader in recognizing changes and opportunities in today’s global landscape. She is whip-smart, proactive, and strategic in implementing global approaches for transformation—the perfect partner to help shepherd MoneyGram into the future.”

–Dawn McCord, Partner