In fifth grade, Kristen Susik had the opportunity to go on a field trip to the local courthouse and observe multiple trials. She had no idea the significant impact that field trip would have on her life and her career.
“When I came home from school that day, I informed my parents that I was going to be a prosecutor when I grew up. From that day forward, there was never a question or doubt in my mind that I would become a lawyer,” she recounts.
Interested in learning all she could about the legal profession, Susik spent her summers in college volunteering as an intern at the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office and at the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office. After her second year of law school, she was a certified legal intern at the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, where she worked in the domestic violence unit attending hearings and trials at the very same courthouse she visited in fifth grade.
“Obviously, it was a very different experience. Working with victims of domestic violence is tough. It’s important work, but I realized it just wasn’t for me,” says Susik.
So, after completing her first year in law school at the University of Miami, Susik took an internship with Ryder System, Inc., gaining experience in different facets of legal work at the Fortune 500 transportation and logistics company. Eight years later, Susik would return to Ryder, but not before taking an interesting and opportune detour—one that would end up shaping her career.
Susik spent six years working at a boutique maritime law firm handling complex litigation, where she sat second chair in a federal bench trial, worked with and deposed expert witnesses, and managed her own active caseload.
“I was very fortunate early on in my career that my bosses and mentors took me under their wings and encouraged me to participate in the larger and more complex cases,” shares Susik. “Through those years of litigation experience, I learned an incredibly valuable skill: how to ask the right questions. To be successful in any litigation or negotiation you must know all the facts. Discovery and due diligence are the difference between a win and a loss, whether in litigation or in a business negotiation.”
It was then that Susik realized it wasn’t the litigation she enjoyed the most about practicing law; in fact, it was the opposite.
“I always enjoyed counseling businesses on how to stay out of trouble. As a litigator, by the time they got to me, it was too late, of course, but I made sure to advise them on how to stay out of my office going forward,” explains Susik. “And I found that I was good at it. By working in litigation, I could see the potential risks ahead of time and advise my clients on how to be proactive about avoiding, or at least mitigating, those risks.”
When a position opened at Ryder, Susik realized it would allow her to pursue her new-found passion in law, acquire transactional skills (something she’d been interested in for some time), and return to a company with which she had a special connection.
“My father has worked at Ryder in finance for nearly thirty years,” she shares. “Based on that experience and my internship, I knew Ryder was an excellent company that truly values its employees and that the corporate values align with my personal values.”
During her interview with Ryder’s then deputy general counsel Sandy Hodes, Susik admits she was concerned she didn’t have the transactional experience the position required.
“Turns out, he wasn’t looking for transactional experience. He was looking for someone with a litigation background like mine because litigators offer a different perspective. That’s incredibly valuable for a legal team.”
As senior counsel at Ryder, Susik supported the supply chain and dedicated transportation businesses. Three months into the job, the company acquired Whiplash, a national provider of omnichannel fulfillment and logistics services. Although new to Ryder, Susik became the lead attorney overseeing and supporting the integration of the e-commerce business. Then, in November of 2022, she was actively involved in the acquisition and the integration of Dotcom Distribution Corp., a provider of omnichannel fulfillment and distribution services.
Susik’s commitment and achievements were recognized in January of 2023 when she was promoted to assistant general counsel. In her current role, she is responsible for negotiating all customer and vendor agreements, and she advises the business on strategic acquisitions and growth opportunities related to e-commerce.
“What I enjoy most about working in-house is the ability to understand the business at a granular level,” explains Susik. “With that, I can apply my litigation experience to best advise the business of potential risks and then work with the team to strategize and implement initiatives to help the business achieve its goals.”
While she works hard, Susik values maintaining a proper work/life balance, though it is an ongoing personal endeavor, and she notes there’s always room for improvement.
“Some of my strategies to maintain work/life balance include taking vacations to give myself the time to reset and recharge. I am not able to provide the best work product if I am mentally or physically burnt out,” she explains. “When I come back from vacation, I’m always ready to tackle things with a fresh mind.”
During the workday, she also tries to take a mid-day walk, if only for ten minutes, which helps her maintain her focus and approach things more mindfully.
Looking ahead, Susik hopes to one day rise to general counsel but is enjoying all that she does in her current role.
“I love to learn, and I love a challenge,” laughs Susik.