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“As an attorney working for a public company, you must be willing to roll with the punches.”
That’s wisdom Stephanie Miller brings from her decades-long in-house attorney career to US Foods, where she’s been the senior vice president, associate general counsel of corporate, and corporate secretary since April 2022.
Her time serving in various roles at Ropes & Gray LLP, Mallinckrodt, Axiom, Baxter International Inc., and Baxalta have been filled with twists and turns. She has advocated for an organization through bankruptcy; mentors she followed to new jobs left within a year or two; and a company she worked for split in two, then that new entity was approached to be bought out three days later and was sold within a year.
These experiences and others were a crash course for Miller’s resilience and grit, values that weigh heavily on her approach to leadership at US Foods.
“When you work at a public company at the highest level, it’s important to know that things could change in an instant,” she says. “You can’t be certain of anything other than if you do good work, you’ll be appreciated, rewarded, and hopefully protected in the event of some existential corporate action. Otherwise, you can’t ever really know what’s going to happen because it’s not always in your control.”
She derives her strength to weather uncertain times from her many accomplishments, but one in particular transformed her life and her approach: surviving stage three breast cancer. She was diagnosed in 2018 while working in London for Mallinckrodt, serving as their corporate secretary as well as the international general counsel. She still remembers the day—her birthday.
“The doctor performed a mammogram, sat me down and said, ‘it looks like there might be a problem,’’’ she recalls.
Miller began chemotherapy in the first half of 2019 and underwent surgery in September and radiation at the end of that year, right before the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though she describes it as a scary and challenging time in her life, she decided to take her power back by continuing to work throughout her treatment.
“Mentally, I just couldn’t take time off,” she says. “I couldn’t possibly just lay around being sick; I would’ve exploded. I needed the distraction that my job provided. So sometimes I’d do calls from my bed and my hospital room because it kept me engaged. I just couldn’t imagine not doing anything because I would’ve been too focused on my illness.”
With support from her husband and her colleagues at Mallinckrodt, she persevered, concluding her treatment in June 2020. She says the experience showed her the importance of opening up about her struggles and being willing to accept help from others, an area she says lawyers often struggle with.
“Lawyers are high-achieving people who are often extraordinarily self-reliant and see themselves as doers,” she says. “But I think opening yourself up and not trying to always be a control freak is a good thing. If you work with good people, they’re going to understand and support you.”
It also instilled in her a strong sense of empathy she uses among her colleagues in her current role.
“I’ve always been an empathetic person, but I feel like it’s at a different level now,” she says. “If anybody is sick, I’m the first to say, ‘Oh my goodness, stop working.’ Because a job is a job. The important thing is you are a healthy and happy person, and you’re doing whatever it takes for you to be that. That’s what I’ve embraced even more after I made it through my illness.”
In her current role at US Foods, she serves as corporate secretary and has legal responsibility for traditional corporate matters, including corporate governance and securities, mergers and acquisitions, finance and compensation, and benefits. In addition, she has taken on responsibility for environment, social and governance strategy and the supplier diversity team. This is her first time having nonlegal professionals on her team, an opportunity that exposes her to new sides of the business.
At base, her work revolves around her love for interacting with different kinds of people, a passion that inspired her to go into law after she graduated from Harvard with a degree in art history. She was working at a museum when she met a colleague who was both a grants director and a lawyer. At first, Miller wasn’t too interested in law because she “never liked to fight.” However, conversations with her colleague made Miller realize that being a corporate lawyer was about much more.
“The idea of being a counselor to executives and directors was very attractive to me,” she says. “Now I aim to be someone who people seek out for advice, who they see as the calm in the center of the storm.”
“It’s been our great pleasure and privilege to partner with Stephanie across a range of complex situations,” say Adam Emmerich and Victor Goldfeld, corporate partners at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. “Stephanie is incredibly talented, with sophisticated and practical judgment, an ability to see the big picture, and a command of all the details—in addition, working with her is an absolute joy.”
Miller advises young attorneys to learn as much as they can at law firms about as many different things as they can, if they one day plan to move in-house.
“If you want to be a good in-house lawyer, specializing isn’t a great strategy,” she says. “What corporate law departments really want are good thinkers, good business partners that can stretch in different directions. Inevitably, when you get in-house, you never know what kind of crazy things are going to come your way.”
“Stephanie brought deep strategic insight and tactical nuance to highly challenging legal problems. She epitomizes cool decision-making under pressure and an ability to find innovative and pragmatic ways through complex multi-jurisdictional issues.”
—Stephen Ranalow, Partner, Corporate and M&A