After four years of playing Division I basketball at Bradley University, Erika Sylvester decided to trade one court for another and pursued a career in law. In joining private practice, she served as a litigator and became partner prior to starting her in-house career at Cummins Inc. and joining Angi in May 2022 as senior counsel.
Though her days on the court are behind her, the former team captain still focuses on teamwork and the importance of communicating, both of which continue to influence the way she approaches her legal responsibilities in-house.
“When challenges present, it’s critical as an in-house counsel to be able to pivot and modify your strategy as a team,” Sylvester explains. “Often, a pivot may include asking questions and listening to answers to identify different ways to address an issue in order to accomplish the goal. In order to have those conversations, it’s critical to establish a level of respect for the different skills that colleagues bring to the table.”
That mentality is what helped Sylvester work so well with clients and colleagues at Coots, Henke & Wheeler PC, where she was involved in all stages of civil litigation as an associate and advocated for a diverse portfolio of clients as a partner.
When she was ready for a new challenge, she joined Cummins in the finance function of internal audit. For Sylvester, who didn’t have a finance background, it was a left turn. “It was a totally different experience,” she reflects. “I was focused on compliance, regulatory audits, and operational processes, either reviewing them for compliance or determining what we could do to create efficiencies.”
While she had a steep learning curve as she adapted to the role, Sylvester faced several unique opportunities. Working outside of legal allowed her to work closely with engineers, auditors, accountants, and others with various backgrounds and titles—functions that served her well when she moved into the legal department at the company.
“It was critical to engage and earn trust with different groups and functions to have productive conversations with the common goal of improving the business” she says. “It was also a great way to be afforded the opportunity to communicate with leadership and identify solutions rather than ‘problems’ while learning about the challenges that a global, Fortune 500 company faces every day.”
Today, Sylvester is proud to be a collaborative, authentic leader, and a strategic business partner at Angi, who understands how effective communication can be a vehicle for strong teams.
“To me, being a good leader requires being a great communicator,” she asserts. “I say that because communication entails listening to others just as much as it is in sharing advice and ideas of your own. Being able to hear voices of the people around you gives you an opportunity to grow, support others around you, and develop trust.”
Sylvester adds, “A good leader is also authentic—when a leader is authentic, others who are around them are more likely to feel that they too can be themselves. That level of authenticity makes for a better working environment and a more successful one, too.”
Since she joined Angi, Sylvester has managed a caseload of prelitigation and litigation disputes with a focus on efficient and cost-effective results. In doing so, she puts on her team-captain hat, serving as a rallying voice for her business colleagues with an acute awareness toward what the organization needs to reach its goals.
“In litigation, you see different parts of the business that can be challenged, and it can be costly to even avoid getting to that point is a space we’re focusing on at this time,” she explains. “For the matters that are unavoidable, it’s important to have the support of the business to make sure we can have an aligned front, gather all the documentation we need, and have the right people involved.”
She’s also had a chance to help streamline processes and procedures and to oversee privacy and compliance work—an area she admits has been a challenge given ongoing regulatory changes. “It’s really been about staying on your feet and constantly challenging myself and our teams to develop robust processes for compliance,” she says.
She urges young lawyers to prioritize “being a good teammate.”
“A good teammate communicates and supports colleagues and business goals,” Sylvester says. “The importance of building relationships, developing an understanding of others skills, learning from them, and supporting them as needed are core competencies for success both on the court and off.”
“Erika is tremendously calculated, thoughtful, and strategic in her approach to litigation and dispute resolution, always with her company’s interests guiding her work. We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Erika and support her and her company.”
—Michael D. Margulies, Shareholder