Elise Puma likes a challenge. In fact, she views every challenge as a fun opportunity.
Although she may be a member of the legal team, Puma views herself a pivotal business partner to every department of the multinational brewer. The twenty-five-member legal team spans the globe and manages everything from corporate mergers and acquisitions to compliance, intellectual property, and procurement.
The attorney admits there was a steep learning curve when she joined AB InBev in 2021. “It’s a whole new language in-house,” she explains. “Corporate speak is something that was a big change for me. Saying words like ‘align’ and ‘cross-functional’ was not something I was used to.”
However, Puma quickly caught onto the lingo and flourished in her role. She credits much of her successful transition to her foundational, hands-on legal experience at Thompson Coburn LLP. “I was very fortunate to be at a law firm that got me involved from day one,” she says. “I handled client contact, I was in the courtroom arguing substantive motions, and I helped prepare and take depositions early on. I feel very lucky for that.”
Perhaps the most valuable preparation, though, was the experience she gained outside of her professional life. Puma grew up in what she describes as a “very volatile environment” due to her father’s emotional and physical abuse. She believes this led her to be a more empathetic, perceptive person.
“As a kid, I could pick up on mood changes and shifts in attitude around the house,” she remembers. “I knew when I had to play my cards right and be careful and guarded. Not that this is something a kid should ever have to go through, but, somehow, I managed to come out of it quite resilient. I use these skills now in processing how people are feeling and judging how things are going in a negotiation.”
Puma was tested again when she was in law school. Just one week into her summer internship at Thompson Coburn following her 2L year, her mother suddenly passed away. The aspiring attorney found herself appreciative of the firm’s flexibility and willingness to pay her for the time she needed to take to focus on her family.
“It all caught me off guard,” she reflects. “But the firm told me to go do my thing and come back when I was ready, despite them not knowing me well at all. While this was personally challenging in many ways, professionally, it was an eye-opening moment to how loss should be supported in the workplace but is often not.”
Today, Puma uses these lessons of prioritization as a working mother with two young daughters. Although she admits that “it’s a balancing act that’s never actually balanced,” she urges fellow moms to give themselves grace “when you’re not perfect in everything you’re doing all the time.”
“I would drive myself crazy for the longest time when I first had kids because I never felt like I was 100 percent in any bucket that I was carrying,” she says. “But now I’m OK with that. We’re all juggling a lot of different things, and you just have to make sure you know which ball is glass and which ball is plastic so that you’re not dropping the glass one. They may be different on different days, and they certainly are for me.”
Perhaps Puma’s favorite part of her senior role is providing mentorship to law students and young attorneys at AB InBev. In fact, she helps lead the company’s internship program in conjunction with Washington University School of Law. “I just love that part of my job is getting to work with students and exposing them to more areas of law that you don’t necessarily see in the classroom,” she says. “I believe that you should never stop learning. I want to mentor because I want to continue to grow, evolve, and learn.”
She also strives to pay it forward given the mentors she had as a young attorney. “I’ve had a number of fabulous mentors, including strong women litigators who came up in an era where there weren’t many female role models,” she says. “I’ve tried to just be a sponge.”
That sense of duty is what defines Puma. While the challenges she faced in her professional life may pale in comparison to what she overcame at such an early age, she now serves as the voice and mentor for her colleagues, her family, and, most importantly, herself.
“We are extremely proud of alum Elise Puma. She was an associate here for over six years and then was promoted to global director of litigation and regulation at Anheuser-Busch InBev after just a year.”
—Amanda Hettinger, Partner