Patricia “Pat” Brown Took a Winding Road

Patricia “Pat” Brown has enjoyed an unorthodox career journey, from music teacher to Marine to in-house legal pro at software analytics company SAS

Patricia “Pat” Brown, EVP and Chief Legal Officer, SAS Photo by Tony Pearce

If anyone at software analytics company SAS is unsure about what they want to do with their life, chances are they’ll be sent to meet with Patricia “Pat” Brown for guidance on embracing different possibilities. The executive vice president and chief legal officer first joined SAS in 1988, and her journey to her current role has been anything but straightforward.

“No matter where they are in the company, people who know me often will send their interns over to talk to me. One of the things they want to impress on them is, ‘You may think you know where you want to go in your life, but you need to stay flexible,’” she says. “They always send them over to me to talk about my winding path to where I am today.”

Brown’s career started when she took a position as a music teacher in rural Kansas. She went back to school for a master’s degree in musicology but ultimately decided against a music teaching career. She then made a move befitting her exceptionally bootstrapping character: she joined the Marines. Brown underwent boot camp at Parris Island in South Carolina—think climbing walls and crawling through mud—and then worked as a paralegal for the Marines for five years.

“I really fell in love with the law, with the logic of it, with how you could use it to make a difference in people’s lives,” she says. “I realized I could do this. I could be a lawyer.”

After Brown graduated from the University of North Carolina School of Law, a friend alerted her to a position opening at SAS. She started out as the company’s second attorney to provide support outside of customer transactions and to support the human resources and intellectual property functions. Over the years, she has gone on to touch just about every part of the business, including research and development, procurement, and mergers and acquisitions. When SAS developed a hosting group, she supported that function. She also worked with the business team to create the company’s first partnering program.

A People Focus 

Patricia Brown prefers to hire team members with previous work experience, but she also firmly believes that they don’t need to come in already knowing the business. As long as they have legal acumen and a genuine interest in the company, they can learn everything else on the job.

Brown also advises managers to build their bench and train their replacements. She notes that they themselves might want to leave for another opportunity, and trained replacements will ensure a smooth transition.

“Build that bench and grow those folks,” she says. “They’re not going to try to take your job from you. You don’t need to worry about that. Just grow them. It’s going to make everybody’s work better. It’s going to help the company. It’s going to help you in the long run. That’s what I preach over and over again. Focus on your people.”

Today, Brown manages thirteen direct reports and has a team of more than 350 around the world.  About 105 of those team members are lawyers. She credits the Marines for helping her develop a collaborative leadership style.

“I look back on my years in the Marine Corps as a real growth time for me, and they have stood me in good stead as a corporate counsel,” she says. “One, I can work with almost anybody. Two, I have learned to be firm and to stand up for what I believe is right, but without being ugly about it. You have to learn to work within boundaries when you’re in the service.”

Her proudest accomplishments at SAS include bringing in new attorneys and helping them be successful as well as consistently providing top-notch, cost-effective legal service to the company.

“One of the things I’m proudest of is that our in-house counsel team, which is essentially a full-service internal law firm, has been so tied into the business that we have been able to help mitigate risks. We have had very little litigation,” she says. “That to me speaks so well of the partnership we have with the business and how we work together to take risks where we should but mitigate them when we need to do that.”

Brown also works closely with external partners to strengthen the business, and they speak highly of her leadership and team-building abilities. “Pat fosters an atmosphere where the distinction between the SAS legal department and the outside law firm barely exists,” says Press Millen, a partner at Womble Bond Dickinson. “Everyone has a clear understanding of what’s best for SAS and its business and works together to figure out how to accomplish that.”

Brown praises the SAS leadership team for creating a culture that she says “does right” by its employees, customers, and society. She lauds her coworkers for being smart and sharp—the kind of people who keep you on their toes.

She also loves the technology. The self-professed “geek at heart” notes that her genuine interest in what SAS is doing has helped keep her there all these years.

“As a privately held company, we have the ability to continue to be entrepreneurial and try new things,” she says. “Our R&D people have been given a lot of freedom to be creative and come up with new ideas. It is never boring. There is always something you’re doing. As a lawyer for a company, you have to stay on top of the technology enough to understand what that business is about and how you’re going to support it.”

Brown is certainly keeping her eye on the future at SAS.

“There are some things we have in the works,” she says. “We are moving toward offering more software as a service. We are revamping our licensing processes and structures, and that’s going to be very transformative for the business. If we can pull that off, I will feel really, really good about that.”

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K&L Gates:

“As a woman CLO, Patricia Brown is a trailblazer and leader, creating paths in the legal, tech, and business spheres for many women—including me. K&L Gates is a proud partner and celebrates her lifelong achievements.”

–Shiau Yen Chin-Dennis, Portland Office Managing Partner

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Tepper & Eyster, PLLC:

“Pat is an absolute pleasure to work with. She never fails to improve every situation. Pat has the rare ability to synthesize complex information into practical, understandable advice, delivered with a dash of good humor.”

–Maury Tepper