“Large participants in the global marketplace can greatly influence the behaviors of their vendors” with Michele Riley and Tyler Gallagher

Large companies such as Wal-Mart, Toyota and Cargill have led the way in not just talking about, but actually implementing the practice of making diversity in hiring, in terms of both race and gender, a first priority. These types of large participants in the global marketplace can greatly influence the behaviors of their vendors, and […]

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Large companies such as Wal-Mart, Toyota and Cargill have led the way in not just talking about, but actually implementing the practice of making diversity in hiring, in terms of both race and gender, a first priority. These types of large participants in the global marketplace can greatly influence the behaviors of their vendors, and it is just this type of influence that is leading to the more recent upticks in diversity that we have seen.

As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michele Riley, a Managing Director with Stout Risius Ross, a privately-held financial and economic consulting firm, in Washington, DC. She consults with clients on a variety of issues, and has a particular focus on damages and valuation of intellectual property. Michele has testified in courts across the United States regarding valuation and damages in patent, trademark and copyright infringement, as well as trade secret misappropriation cases. She has performed valuations of intellectual property for arms-length licensing and litigation matters, and assisted clients with the financial aspects of negotiations for the purchase, sale and licensing of intellectual property. In addition, she has audited royalty streams on technology licenses for clients in a number of industries. Michele frequently writes and lectures on methodologies for determining damages in intellectual property infringement matters, as well as valuation techniques for intangible assets. She has been included in Intellectual Asset Magazine’s Patent 1000: The World’s Leading Patent Professionals for each of the last five years. She is a Certified Public Account, a Certified Fraud Examiner and is Certified in Financial Forensics by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?

I majored in physics as an undergraduate, and worked in science for a number of years after college. I have always liked solving problems and wanted a career that would offer problems of different varieties to solve. I decided to get an MBA and concentrate in finance. It was during my graduate work that I saw the parallels between finance and accounting as the language of business and math as the language of science. It was also during my graduate work that I first learned about intellectual property through a class I took on technology transfer from public research institutions to the private sector.

I very much enjoy solving problems of funding, profitability and sustainability of businesses and products. Through my work I get to meet inventors who were able to discern, very early on, the need for fundamental technologies that we now consider commonplace. The process by which such groundbreaking inventions are monetized is fascinating to study.

Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far?

The story of my career is an interesting read because of the variety of experiences I have had, and these experiences have been available to me because of my willingness to seek out change and take opportunities, along with their associated risks. I have been a deck officer on an oceanographic research ship, a partner in two privately-held consulting firms, a candidate for public office, a stay-at-home mom, a Certified Public Accountant, and a damages expert in numerous complex intellectual property litigation matters.

In each of these roles, I have strived to develop both my subject matter expertise and my professional network. Focusing on these aspects empowers me because they are portable and they have each allowed me to more fully develop my capabilities at every stage of my career. Simply put, you can’t go wrong by learning as much as you can every day, and listening more than talking to the people you encounter on a day to day basis.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

From my perspective at the intersection of finance and intellectual property (IP), we see IP being used more frequently to securitize investments, which can fund activities at an earlier stage of the business cycle instead of waiting for the lengthy process of commercialization to come to fruition. Seeing investors make the decision to invest in a company that may still be in an early stage but has valuable IP is very rewarding because it spurs a cycle of continued innovation.

Litigation funding is another area that is generating projects which are interesting because these funders allow parties that may not previously have had capital access to participate in the legal process.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Stout has a “no jerk” rule that we consistently enforce. Every year, all employees fill out a survey measuring those in the firm that they work with, at all levels, against the principles and standards set forth in our firm’s core values. These surveys result in what we call our citizenship scores, which are integral to each employee’s success within the firm.

I think that too often, particularly in professional services firms, the implementation of a no jerk rule is given lip service, but in reality the rule is not enforced. I feel strongly that our implementation and enforcement of this rule makes Stout different and most certainly makes Stout a better place to work.

Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?

Large companies such as Wal-Mart, Toyota and Cargill have led the way in not just talking about, but actually implementing the practice of making diversity in hiring, in terms of both race and gender, a first priority. These types of large participants in the global marketplace can greatly influence the behaviors of their vendors, and it is just this type of influence that is leading to the more recent upticks in diversity that we have seen.

In the years to come, I hope these demand side-driven changes continue to shape the look of our banking and financial institutions, because they are welcome changes that have been too long in the making.

Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and /or c) society to support this movement going forward?

There is a huge talent hole that swallows women up after they have children and leave the workforce “for only a few years.” Many women never come back into the workforce from this foray into full-time caregiving. Here’s how we can help them come back:

1) Society needs to ensure men have the same parental leave options as women, and encourage men to take advantage of this parental leave, so that the responsibilities of raising a family can be equally shared.

2) Companies need to support women who have young children by offering flexible / reduced schedules and then making sure these women are discussing with a mentor or supervisor, at least twice a year, the options they have regarding returning to work. It is certainly hard work to be in a demanding job and also raise children. Mothers need to be consistently encouraged to return to the workforce and plug back in so that the pipeline of women who are qualified to fill senior positions remains full.

3) Individuals need to stay connected with these stay at home moms and encourage them to think about themselves and their futures and consider resuming their careers when the time is right. Even though it seems like a long time when you are in the moment, the portion of a 45 year career that a woman spends at home with her children is only 15–25% of her overall career (assuming she stays home for 7–10 years). Too often this time period lengthens unnecessarily because the stay at home mom does not have an external professional network encouraging her to come back into the workplace. Keeping the dialogue open is a great way to provide this support.

You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non-intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each?

– We seem to think a conversation about financial literacy should be terribly boring and filled with discussion of bond yields and the like, when actually the need for plain-spoken discussions about financial literacy is evident all around us. My top suggestions:

– Take a meal you really like at a particular restaurant, find recipes online, go buy the ingredients and cook the meal. Compare how much you spent on the groceries to the cost of the meal at the restaurant and see how much money you would save by cooking more at home (likely about 2/3 the cost of the meal), which the Food Network shows us is so much fun! Ancillary benefits include entertaining your friends at home and hosting family holiday gatherings.

– Read The Economist and the Wall Street Journal. You pick up good information and you will always be able to start a conversation at a cocktail party with anyone, from any country or in any career field, based on what you read.

– Adult children and their parents should strive to have an open and honest conversation about the items parents want to pay for on behalf of their children, and when those payments will stop (i.e., college, down payment on a house, wedding, etc.). As parents, we get in the habit of paying for things just because we always have and resentments can build. Paying for grown children’s smartphones is a great example; I know many parents who want to take their adult child off their plan but they don’t seem to know how to have the discussion.

– One of our children is coming up on his senior year in high school and our experience touring colleges and universities indicates to me there is too much emphasis on “finding your bliss” and not enough on choosing a major (and in turn, a career) that will enable you to earn enough money to support the other things you want to do. I suggest educating yourself on expected salary/pay in the career fields you are interested in and using that information to find a vocation that you will enjoy and that will support your avocation(s).

– My final and favorite non-intuitive thing for you to do is set aside a small but reasonable amount of money that is solely for purchases that make you happy. Think about how it feels to you to literally “buy happiness” and contrast this feeling to spending money for status or keeping up with the neighbors. Hint: it feels a heck of a lot better because you planned for the purchase and it is something you really want!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

For many years I benefitted from an informal mentoring relationship with Terry Musika, who consistently taught me valuable lessons about finance and accounting, and the application of both to intellectual property and the business world in general. We did not have a formal mentoring relationship in that it was dictated by a company-sponsored mentoring program. Rather, it was a relationship I spent a good deal of time on developing, by asking questions about client matters, employee relations, and all other aspects of building and running a business. I think my desire to cultivate this relationship stemmed from the simple fact that I could see Terry was successful and I wanted to emulate that success. At times, the relationship was challenging to maintain, but when I look back at the success I have had, I see many of the ways I work on a day to day basis coming from Terry’s mentorship (and as a matter of fact, I also observed things he did that I intentionally do not emulate, which I count as another valuable lesson).

Unfortunately, Terry passed away several years ago quite suddenly, without getting to do many of the things he wanted to do in life. To have such an influential person in my life pass away so suddenly made me realize: how close am I to where I want to get, and once I get there, how do I want to live my life? A lot of people will tell you some variation on the line, “No one lies on their deathbed wishing they spent more time at the office.” That is absolutely true, and having my mentor pass away when I was at a mid-career point definitely impacted me and made me more of a risk-taker in many ways; it also made me more appreciative and grateful.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite and perennially most applicable life lesson quote is: “It’s not about you.” We spend so much energy analyzing the actions of other people, trying to determine what each word, gesture and glance mean relative to ourselves, and I have found time and time again that other people’s actions are typically triggered by elements of their day that are completely outside the scope of our interaction. So it is hardly ever about me!

I find that when I keep this in mind, I am a better listener, I am more patient, and I am more efficient, because I am not spending time analyzing things that were beyond the scope of my control to begin with.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Forge the bonds that bind us together by having a conversation with a stranger in line at the store or on the subway. Research shows that we humans feel more connected when we talk to strangers, like we are part of something bigger. It also makes us happier! I hear so many people complain that they are feeling isolated, particularly younger people. Making the commitment to talk to others will have positive impacts on both you and the person you talk to, and more often than not, you will learn something too. If you just can’t seem to find a way to start a conversation with a stranger, just try smiling. This act in and of itself might just start a conversation, but even if it doesn’t, smiling makes you feel happier.

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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