Mialeeka Williams-Bibbs: “Be yourself”

Be yourself. I remember being a junior lawyer and at one point, I was trying to develop my personal style, so I tried to find someone to model myself after. I wanted to negotiate like them, argue like them, totally copy their path. But one day, it dawned on me that the thing I was […]

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Be yourself. I remember being a junior lawyer and at one point, I was trying to develop my personal style, so I tried to find someone to model myself after. I wanted to negotiate like them, argue like them, totally copy their path. But one day, it dawned on me that the thing I was best at was being me. My authentic self is the best I can be, and when you bring your authentic self to the table, that’s enough. That was a huge realization for me.

As a part of my series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became An Attorney” I had the pleasure of interviewing Mialeeka Williams-Bibbs.

Mialeeka Williams-Bibbs, JD, CCEP, is serving as the first-ever general counsel at Kit Check. A registered patent attorney and an active member of the Virginia, Maryland, District of Columbia, and Georgia state bars, Williams has over 20 years of legal and business consulting experience across healthcare, healthcare IT, technology, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, consumer products and other sectors. Prior to her current role, she worked with Engage Partners Inc., providing executive level counsel in the healthcare IT space. Over the course of her robust career, Williams has also served as director of innovation intellectual property counsel at The Coca-Cola Company, and chief counsel for the U.S. pharmaceutical hospitals segment at McKesson Corporation.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. What is the “backstory” that brought you to this particular career path in Law?

My career path definitely wasn’t traditional, or a “straight line,” if you will. I knew that I wanted to get a second degree right out of undergrad, and I also knew that I’d be doing it by attending night classes while I was working my full-time job as a chemical engineer. In some ways, law school was the path of least resistance — I recognized that I would probably have less tests, extracurriculars and meetings at law school as opposed to business school, and I needed something that would fit with my busy schedule.

Because I was still working while I was in school, I never had internships or part-time jobs at law firms, so when I graduated, I got snatched up right away to work at a firm that happened to be in the patent field. Although I had a great experience there and built my skills as a patent lawyer, the firm got acquired and I knew that I wanted to broaden my horizons. I ended up taking a job in New Jersey to be closer to my godsister, which was a win-win, as I wanted to be close to family and I knew she would be able to help me with my daughter. Then, when she moved to Atlanta, I started looking for opportunities closer to family and ended up at Coca Cola as the company’s innovation counsel negotiating agreements with people all over the world.

Eventually, Coca Cola went through a series of layoffs, and I came to understand that I was at a pivotal point in my career. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next, but I was sure that I didn’t want to be pigeonholed. At that point, I decided that I wanted to transition to being a generalist. I started my own firm consulting and helping develop intellectual property for smaller businesses that were trying to work with the Coca Colas of the world. From there, I got an amazing opportunity to work as general counsel for an international global chemical company and knew I was no longer tethered to one specific practice area, as it was vastly different from anything I’d done before. I worked with 32 different entities around the world, which served as the best possible way to learn about the general counsel role. Throughout my career, I’ve strived to take risks that may be uncomfortable at first, and I think that’s gotten me to where I am today.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your law career?

One of the funniest things I remember happened before I moved to Atlanta. Being from California, I had never been to the South before, and my very first time was for a negotiation over asphalt that took place in Jackson, Mississippi. When I showed up, it was like I had stepped into the movie “The Firm.” The lawyer I was meeting with was dressed in head-to-toe white with a statement hat, and we went out to a formal lunch where we were served four courses. Of course, I had a great time, but I was shocked at what seemed like a total setup. In my opinion, the thought behind sending me in was that it was for a contract negotiation that had been stalled for years, and no one had been able to close it, so they figured they’d send in the rookie. I ended up closing the deal, and it taught me an important lesson about biases and pre-judging things. The key was to just stay myself and remain focused despite the unconventional situation going on around me. Instead of being intimidated by it, I stuck to my own beliefs and background and everything ended up working out.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am most excited to work projects related to drug diversion. Working with products and solutions that can potentially better the lives of patients and people across the country is really meaningful to me, and I’m thrilled I’m getting to work on an issue that has a really huge impact. Additionally, I’ve been very enthusiastic about working on DoseID, a first-of-its-kind member driven consortium to standardize radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging in the healthcare space that Kit Check is part of. It’s bringing together organizations from across the pharmaceutical supply chain that are working to help solve problems related to RFID standardization, like medication recalls. There are so many moving parts, and I got to help work on a certification mark, which is something I’d never done before.

What are some of the most interesting cases you have been involved in? Without sharing anything confidential can you share any stories?

Some of the most exciting and interesting work I’ve done over the course of my career took place at Coca Cola. The company was so innovative, and I got to work hands-on as an integral part of that development. Two of the projects I vividly remember working on were the Freestyle machine that lets users design their own Coca Cola drink and the contoured aluminum bottles you can find in the grocery store. You’d never guess, but those bottles have so many special components that have to be sourced from all around the world. We had to work with companies in Italy, Germany…we essentially had to fly all over the world just to make those little bottles! I also remember that Coca Cola had a science fair-like event called Innovation Day, where everyone could come present their ideas. There was an incredible amount of forward-thinking and innovation that came out of it, so it was fantastic to be able to be part of that.

Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?

To name just a few: Malcolm X, Elijah Cummings, John Lewis, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thurgood Marshall. What they all have in common is the selfless, unwavering fight they had in them to challenge the status quo and evoke change. They gave all of their time, effort and spirit to fix what they knew wasn’t fair in society and relentlessly pursued justice for everyone. It inspires me that someone would dedicate their life to a cause like that. The fact that they woke up every day and were motivated by causes so much bigger than themselves is so inspiring to me. They gave so much love back to the world for the greater good. I simply can’t image what the world would be like without each of them.

What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in law?

I would say don’t do it for the money, the glamour or the fame. Those things are not guaranteed. Make sure you’re doing it for a reason that’s of value to you and make sure you choose law and go to law school because there’s something about it that aligns with your personal values.

If you had the ability to make three reforms in our judicial/legal system, which three would you start with? Why?

Three of the causes I’m most passionate about are prison reform, sentencing reform and access to effective counsel. Access to effective counsel is particularly important to me because of my understanding of law and the judicial system. Public defenders are incredibly overwhelmed by the caseloads they have to manage, and they aren’t able to do what lawyers who are paid millions of dollars for just a handful of clients do. In an ideal world, there would be more equality when it comes to representation in court.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

The work I do with products that help detect and prevent drug diversion and combat the opioid epidemic is something that I feel good about. When I think about what I do in the grand scheme of my day, it’s not like every morning I wake up and work on diversion issues, but at some corner of my day my work touches it, and I remember we’re in the fight to actively help people control opioid abuse and steer those with opioid addiction disorder toward treatment. It feels like what I’m doing matters and that’s, of course, a good feeling. Beyond diversion, all of our products, like the Kit Check core product, are creating efficiency in the hospital so doctors and nurses are able to spend their time more effectively. This allows people to get the accurate and safe healthcare they need. At the end of the day, when I’m negotiating contracts, it always boils down to what’s in the best interest of the patient.

I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?

In my life, my primary drivers are my daughter and my family. They’re like my power pellet. I also have a great group of friends, and their support and continued love give me strength. When I’m down, they lift me up, and they always believe in me even when I’m questioning myself. They are the wind beneath my wings that allows me to be the wind beneath other peoples’ wings. When I see them winning and I’m part of helping them, that gives me the energy to keep going. Overall, I’m definitely a team player and someone that revels in being part of a team. Seeing my teams excel and meet their destiny is what drives me. I feel the team spirit in my current role, and that inspires me to wake up and go to work every day.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Although things may not always happen the way you planned, if you trust in God things will happen for the better. I could never have mapped out my career as perfectly as it has mapped itself out. It has worked out by God’s perfect hand — that’s how I would describe it. Of course, there are certain things that have happened and decisions I’ve had to make. For example, when Coca Cola had layoffs that was a huge blow to me, and I thought to myself “What do I do?” I had to figure out how to feed my family and keep things moving while also being at a pivotal point in deciding how to advance my career. Fortunately, an incredible opportunity opened up, but was I was definitely torn between the easy decision to stick with being a patent attorney and the more challenging choice to pursue something different. There were a lot of factors going on in the background, but I ended up on the right path for what I wanted and ended up where I am today.
  2. Be yourself. I remember being a junior lawyer and at one point, I was trying to develop my personal style, so I tried to find someone to model myself after. I wanted to negotiate like them, argue like them, totally copy their path. But one day, it dawned on me that the thing I was best at was being me. My authentic self is the best I can be, and when you bring your authentic self to the table, that’s enough. That was a huge realization for me.
  3. Enjoy being a junior lawyer. It seems like when you’re in that space, all you want to do is hurry up and get out of it — and I absolutely remember that feeling. You’re so rushed to go in-house, rushed to be a partner and rushed to complete the next step that you don’t take time to enjoy the space you’re in. Early in your career is the perfect time to learn and cultivate your craft, and it’s an especially important time to develop mentors and mentor other people. Take that time to really explore and get to know what it is you like or don’t like, and don’t be in such a rush to get to the next level.
  4. If you have good instincts, trust your gut. This has been the best piece of advice when I’ve heeded it and has led to the most regret when I didn’t. There have been several instances when I’ve been in contract negotiations, and my gut has told me that no matter what we do we’re going to end up in litigation. My “spidey senses” have been tingling, so to speak, and when I’ve ignored them and just pushed ahead to get the deal done, lo and behold we’ve ended up in court. Looking back, I wish I had pumped the brakes and told the business I was working with, “let’s walk away from this deal.” If that’s what your gut is telling you, you should tell your team and let them know you don’t think this is the deal you should be doing.
  5. Keep a copy of Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson handy. This book has gotten me through so many challenging career and life decisions. Whenever I’m feeling stuck, it’s always one that I go back to. When I left Coca Cola, I felt very out of place and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. This book helped me become unstuck and gave me the confidence to pursue a great general counsel position.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

If I could share a meal with one person, it would be Robert F. Smith. He’s a chemical engineer and philanthropist — the man who recently paid off the loans of Morehouse College’s class of 2019. He’s an amazing person with a strong philanthropic background. He has consistently donated to historically Black colleges and universities, and he’s reached such a level of success and still continues to give back. That means the world to me.

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