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EP 224: How Networking Makes the Difference Relaunching to a Senior Role, with Mary Catherine Malley

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Episode Description

Mary Catherine Malley is Senior Corporate Counsel for Juniper Networks. Her route to this huge role for a global, NYSE listed, multi-billion company following an 11 year career break is the topic of our conversation. A surprising conversation with a neighbor jumpstarted her relaunch, and ended up in a returnship-like role for his company. Mary Catherine details the key role networking played in her relaunch, and how attending our iRelaunch Return to Work Conference twice and the iRelaunch Roadmap helped guide her relaunch. This episode is part of our "Relaunching in Senior Roles" mini-series.

Read Transcript

Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss return to work strategies, advice, and success stories. I'm Carol Fishman, Cohen, CEO, and Co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. Today, we welcome Mary Catherine Malley. Mary Catherine is Senior Corporate Counsel for Juniper Networks. Her route to this huge role for a global New York Stock Exchange listed multi-billion dollar company is the topic of our podcast today. Mary Catherine took an 11 year career break to focus on childcare. She reentered the workforce following a surprising conversation with a neighbor and ended up in a returnship like role for his company.

We can't wait to get the details on Mary Catherine's relaunch and the key role networking played in it. Mary Catherine attended our iRelaunch Return to Work Conference and a prior iRelaunch event that we ran at Stanford that we will talk about and used the iRelaunch Roadmap to guide her relaunch.

Mary Catherine, welcome to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch.

Mary Catherine Malley: Thank you very much for having me, Carol. I'm just delighted to be here. It's fun to be having this conversation as opposed to being in a huge audience, listening to you on the stage where I was equally inspired.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Thank you for saying that. And I'm so thrilled to be talking to you at this point after your relaunch and having been to our conferences early on. And I love the idea that the con, the conversation that we're having right now is going to inspire people who were, where you were once, in, at that entry-level stage coming to our events at the beginning of your relaunch journey.

So happy to be talking about all of this. Can you start by telling us a little bit about your background and what you did prior to your career break, and then what prompted you to step away from the workforce?

Mary Catherine Malley: I am a corporate securities attorney and I practiced for 15 years prior to my break prior to stepping away from my career.

I practiced started my career at the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington in the division of corporation finance, and then moved to New York City where I practiced with a large law firm there for two years before returning to Buffalo, where I was for nine years. Buffalo is my hometown. So when I say returned to Buffalo, I also went to the law school in Buffalo.

So while I was there, I also formed a nonprofit with other young professionals interested in economic redevelopment. And that was my second hat, my, my free time, so to speak. And I've always been invested in my community and invested in my career. So why did I take a break? A big change, my husband, who had been driving 400 miles in each direction every week to a job out of the area, got a job in California where we could all be in the same place.

So it was a good time for, and we had two tiny babies. So when we moved to California, I had a three-year-old and a 15 month old, and we had a very busy life and it seemed a nice time to take a break. I knew that I would, at some point return to my career, I just didn't know when. I was ready to enjoy this California adventure and allow him to take a new opportunity.

Carol Fishman Cohen: All right. So you've moved across the country. You're in California. You have these two small children and you're on career break now. So what happened during that time? When did you decide to reenter the workforce? And did you have a timetable set up or what was that process like?

Mary Catherine Malley: I didn't have a time table set up.

But I was always, I maintained my legal license, so I was continuing to do continuing legal education requirements and read legal publications so that I was aware of what was going on so that I could relaunch. I didn't even know the term relaunch at the time. I wasn't on at the time, we weren't sure how long we may would stay in California.

So I had in mind that we could potentially be returning to Buffalo at some point. So I didn't have a clear timetable, whether where our life would take us, whether we would stay in California or return, but in the, in that process, I started to get to know, so moved away from what I had done and was beginning to know the new industry where I lived in Salinas, California called the salad bowl of the world and agriculture and ag tech are the billion dollar industry in my neighborhood.

So I began to learn about what was going on here. In addition to what they call the blue economy going on in Monterrey.

Carol Fishman Cohen: What does that mean, the blue economy?

Mary Catherine Malley: Everything that happens in the water.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Ah, okay. Thank you.

Mary Catherine Malley: So I began to learn about California and then we're, I'm just down the road from Silicon Valley, which about an hour and a half drive.

Not close enough for, having little children at home, but an idea. So I became aware of the industries so that I had potential had potentially had an opportunity.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Got it. Can you talk about what year these, this was? And then you had mentioned too, when we were speaking earlier, what year you attended our, iRelaunch Return to Work conference first?

Mary Catherine Malley: So I re I came to California in 2005. And the first relaunch conference I attended was 2011.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay. So you're about six years into your career break at that time. And what was that experience like at that time in your journey?

Mary Catherine Malley: I was very excited about it. I, my son, at that point, my son was in second grade and my daughter was in fourth grade. So they're past their little babyhoods and I was starting to think of what's for me. At what point more seriously. And I heard about the iRelaunch conference and it was at Stanford and all of that was exciting to travel up the road and to engage outside of my community. And re-engaged in, with other professionals looking at relaunching.

Carol Fishman Cohen: You went in to 2011 and it was at Stanford? Feels like earlier than we were at Stanford, but

Mary Catherine Malley: It was a Stanford. It was co it was with Stanford's MBA school and Kellogg.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Oh, right. It w that was actually. It was not an official conference that was like a half day about career re-entry. So that's right. We did a joint event, with Stanford Graduate School of Business and Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, a half-day event about relaunching careers. So that's what you must've been at in 2011.

Mary Catherine Malley: But when I attended the event at Stanford in 2011, I learned a lot. And then I realized that I wasn't ready to relaunch.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So this is such an important point because readiness it's very personal. It's different for every person. And to recognize that you're not ready yet is important in itself.

So you realize you weren't ready, but what happened after that conference? Did it change the way you were thinking about how you were spending your time, or in some way, prepping for a future relaunch?

Mary Catherine Malley: Yes. It helped me to strategically consider what I was spending my time doing. Many times the role of a mother with school aged children, you get really involved in their school and their, for me, the scout troops.

And I enjoyed that. So in part it, let me be free to really engage in that. But at the same time, recognize that I wanted to be doing things that were building my skills.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So what happened between that time, and then when you went to the iRelaunch Return to Work conference, the official conference, and that was your second iRelaunch event in 2017.

Mary Catherine Malley: Between then I had read your book that I had got, I had received at the first conference Back on the Career Track, and I had actively begun to consider my relaunch. And I had actively talked to people about wanting to relaunch and what I embraced the concept that when you're ready, you need to tell everyone, that you have to have your everyone maybe is too broad, but, many. So people know that's where you're headed and that's what you're doing.

You become comfortable, you own it, you own where you're going and why. And I had a tell you a funny story is I was, you know how we combine work and family and balance it all. I was at my son's flag football game and I was walking home and I paused at a nearby neighbors yard as he was cleaning his garage.

And we were, we wound up chatting and I knew that he was involved in the agriculture industry, but I didn't actually know his role. I didn't know he was the CEO of his company. And as we talked, it turned out that, he also started his career as a lawyer at the Securities and Exchange Commission in Los Angeles.

And I had started my career at the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, and we had a shared understanding of what we know and I was telling him about my relaunch idea. I told him it was my March Madness. Cause it was late February in California. You can be cleaning your garage, not so much in other places in the country, but hey, I have a significant transaction that I'm doing. I could use some help. You're looking to get something on your resume to get yourself going. Let's talk. So soon thereafter, I went and met him and his, and others on his management team and then decided to just go with it, jump in and help with these transactions, knowing that it was going to be a relatively short opportunity.

It wound up being longer than we initially planned and had more work than we initially planned. But it allowed me to get back in to get back on software and using the newer technology in communicating with every, everybody in a different way than I had and working my first in-house role. Prior to that, I had worked in the government and in large law firms.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. Wow. So can you talk a little bit about what it was like? Those maybe the first six months back. First of all, how long did you end up having that role? What were the first six months like? Did you have to get your sea legs again in a legal sense or the continuing education courses you had taken? Were those helpful? How did that part of it feel?

Mary Catherine Malley: One, it felt exhilarating, so it was fun.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That's great.

Mary Catherine Malley: And it was nearby. So the fact that it was 10 minutes down the road, helped tremendously. It was the summer of my daughter's eighth grade. So not necessarily ideal from a family point of view, but ideal in terms of the time, the original time commitment and the opportunity.

Yeah, definitely you're going into a new job. Any new job is, has some time to get used to that, the new role. But it is again, a little bit different when you're relaunching.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And this was an entirely different part of the law or side of legal work than you were doing before. Is that right? Or were, was there, some connection?

Mary Catherine Malley: There was some connection because I had done, corporate securities and M & A, and this was a divestiture, so similar skills, but there were other contract work that was a little bit different. So applying my skills differently. And some of it was a little bit, perhaps more on the paralegal than the, the partner level that I had come to in my legal practice previously.

I was everything right. We had outside counsel. So that was also a wonderful opportunity to interact with them, but it was my first time being on that side of the table.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I see. And you were pretty senior when you left the workforce. So you were already a partner at your law firm, and now you're doing legal work, which you're saying encompasses everything from, the, the strategy and the drafting and the thinking itself. And also a whole bunch of other roles that you might have been held by someone on a team that you were head of in the past.

Mary Catherine Malley: Correct. And that was so that took some getting used to, but I have to say I enjoyed it all.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. I think that's something else when you're relaunching is that you can have that perspective.

And if you're approaching it from a position of curiosity and excitement, it sounds like you were then it's, it doesn't really matter exactly what you're doing in terms of level or type of role. You're doing all of it. And, and you're ramping up at the same time. After, how long were you there when you felt like you would, you had been there the whole time? It didn't feel like you were ramping up anymore?

Mary Catherine Malley: I would say definitely by the fall. So I started in May and we were closing those transactions. There was a couple of different things that then wound up happening in addition to the first goal that I had. There were other, with every company there's always something else going on.

So I took on some other projects. And in the fall we were celebrating success on several of them. So I think at that point, I really felt like part of the team.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Can you talk about the role that, professional associations and networking played, in your relaunch and ultimately how the people you met through those connections, helped you land the current role that you have at Juniper Networks.

Mary Catherine Malley: Networking is and was key. I think it's funny that I'm at a networking company because the network is key to me, not only us talking now through the network, but when I started with the produce company, was called organic girl. When I started there, I also joined the Association of Corporate Counsel.

And some of these things when you're relaunching may not be covered by your new company, may not be offering that as a benefit. But at this point then I had an income. So I joined that Association of Corporate Counsel and I started attending continuing legal education events in Silicon Valley.

At that point, they were all in person. There wasn't any virtual option, but it also gave me the opportunity to go up and meet people. And those people opened new doors for me. And then I also knowing that my returnship was going to be of a limited duration, I used that opportunity to continue connecting. So we had outside counsel, I told outside counsel what my goals were.

They introduced me to an associate on their team who had joined them through the On-ramp Fellowship. When I went to, I decided, they introduced us. I was going up to meet her for lunch. And in my prep, I realized that she was involved with an organization called Leading Women in Technology that had a leadership program.

So I then applied for that after talking to her and learning more about it. I saw that was a good opportunity for me again self-funded so they do have some financial support available. So I was able to benefit from the connection of the in-house counsel, whom opened a door for me. Then I joined, then I applied for and joined the Leading Women in Technology Willpower Program in San Jose, Palo Alto.

And, then I also, it wasn't just, those through my current connections, but it was reaching back thinking who else in my either career connections or law school or alumni associations, who should I be talking to? So I reached out to a friend who is probably among the best networkers in the corporate and securities world.

And, he had a Women's 100 Conference in Palo Alto. And when I say Brock Romanek is a very good friend of mine. So when I reached out to Brock and he really encouraged me and said, Hey, here's a opportunity to come to my Women's 100 Conference. And I went to that and it was there that I made additional contacts, including my predecessor at Juniper Network.

As I mentioned to Carol, that there is a wonderful Google group called the Bay Area in house lawyers. And she had posted that she was leaving her opportunity. So I made that connection through my, my, connection through, my, SEC alumni friend, who was now had a new opportunity in my neighborhood, essentially, but up in Palo Alto, who opened a new door for me.

And then it was through the joining. So reaching out and joining the Bay Area in house lawyers group, because I was at Organic Girl. So I had that opportunity. And then through that, I was able to interview at Juniper Networks and our prior general council also happened to be from Buffalo, New York and had gone to the State University of New York at Buffalo law school.

And we had friends in common. We didn't know each other prior to that. Although interestingly, LinkedIn had recommended us as to connect. And I was connected to him. I didn't know him because I saw that we had, we were had similar connections.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I love all these connections and they're random, they're all coming together here. And I also just want to note that, Bay Area In-house Lawyers, the acronym is BAIL. I thought that's very creative.

Mary Catherine Malley: Lawyers are creative.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Good sense of humor too. It's really good. Okay. It turns, so you end up in interviewing and you had, you're connected with the person who's outgoing in the position. You're connected with the more senior lawyer of the, in the group through your law school, and being from Buffalo and then ultimately it sounds like you got hired for that role.

Mary Catherine Malley: Yes. So I was hired at Juniper Networks three years ago and into this corporate securities area, so exactly in my field. So it's been a tremendous opportunity.

And, I'm able to bring so that where we talked earlier, Carol, about going into my first in-house role and doing it all in, in my current role, I'm doing it all also. So it's what I learned there at Organic Girl, I'm using at Juniper Networks. What I had used, what I had developed in my practice in Buffalo, New York, and the SEC is all relevant to my practice today.

So there's not, you never know what that prior experience will lend to your future experience.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, that's for sure. So I'm curious you're, five or so years into your relaunch, and I'm curious how long you personally have held on or not held on to your relauncher identity. Can you please comment on that?

Mary Catherine Malley: I think the relauncher identity is part of my career portfolio. It's like being an alumni of your college. You're always part of that college experience. You're always part of, where you come from. So the iRelaunch journey is really part of who I am. It informs me in working with my colleagues who have little ones now, and also I was recently asked to head up the Juniper Networks legal organization, Inclusion and Diversity committee. I'm co-chair on that. And it's very meaningful to me. So inclusion means Relaunchers in part and part of, as part of inclusion and it's very important to me to help other Relaunchers. And that's one reason why telling my story the way I can I tell you Carol, how we connected was my, I was contacted by an organization called the Modern Counsel to have an article about my legal career. And the point I really wanted to make about my career is the pivots that I've made from, in each point in my journey, including the relaunch.

And that's where I reconnected with you through that Modern Counsel article. I really benefited from those stories in, in the Back on the Career Track book, as well as the many men and women on the stage at the Stanford relaunch conference.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. Very inspiring. And so I love this comment, Mary Catherine, that you're saying about you, you're in your role now and you're thinking about hiring other Relaunchers because this was part of the original vision that Vivian Rabin and I, Vivian, co-founder of iRelaunch with me and coauthor of Back on the Career Track that we had, at the outset that once there were a critical mass of Relaunchers or any Relaunchers inside an organization, then they would be open to and interested in hiring more Relaunchers and that would be part of the institutional shift that would happen, as a result.

So I it's really, it's notable to me that's exactly what you're talking about in your particular situation.

Mary Catherine, we are moving into the final part of our interview right now. And I want to end by asking you the question that we ask all of our podcast guests. And that is what is your best piece of advice for our relauncher audience, even if it's something that we've already talked about today?

Mary Catherine Malley: I think my best piece of advice are two pieces that I will put together from two parts of my life. One is allow for the opportunity. The other is be true to yourself.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Those are excellent. And when you're saying allow for the opportunity, do you mean that the opportunity comes along because of what you create for yourself? Or did you mean something else by that?

Mary Catherine Malley: One part is by what you create for yourself, and another is sometimes we think I can't do it because.

You have to ask yourself, why can't you? And how could you? Sometimes it's because we need to hire someone to help us to make the opportunity so that you can step back into your career. I'll say my daughter now is a freshman, sophomore in college and sometimes I've thought, "Oh, did relaunch at the right time?"

And she said to me, "Mom, think of the opportunities you have created because you relaunched not only for yourself, but for our family."

Carol Fishman Cohen: I love that. It's always so meaningful for us to hear from family members, spouses, or partners and children, especially like adult children who are now looking back on the time when their parents relaunched. And that's a wonder, that's wonderful. That must make you feel, great.

Mary Catherine Malley: Definitely. And being true to yourself as take. There could be lots of different roles you can take on, but being true to yourself is take on the one that fits best.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That makes a lot of sense. And in order to do that, you have to do the hard work to figure out where your interests and skills are strongest now, where you think you can add the most value.

And that's a part of the relaunch process that sometimes people want to skip, but it actually drives everything else in the process. So really great advice. Mary Catherine, thank you so much for joining us today.

Mary Catherine Malley: Thank you for having me. I am so delighted to be included.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And thanks for listening to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss return to work strategies, advice, and success stories. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the CEO and Co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. For more information on iRelaunch conferences and events to sign up for our job board and access our return to work tools and resources go to

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