Goal IX Newsletter

Fall 2005, Volume 11, Number 1

Luncheon Keynote Address: by Peter Kreindler


Good afternoon.

I want to start by saying "thank you." Peter Kreindler

First, thank you Stephanie (Franklin-Suber) for that kind and very flattering introduction.

I also want to thank everyone involved with the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession … and especially those involved with the Minority Counsel Program.

I welcome this opportunity to share some thoughts on the very important topic of racial and ethnic diversity in the legal profession and at my company, Honeywell.

I come with the usual trepidation of being the luncheon entertainment. Conventional wisdom says that most people are less afraid of dying than they are of speaking in public. That caused Jerry Seinfeld to observe that the person delivering a eulogy may be the only one at a funeral who envies the corpse.

I am grateful to the M-C-P for asking me to be here with you today. I also appreciate being invited to sign the "Call to Action on Diversity in the Legal Profession" last summer. I was proud to sign on Honeywell's behalf.

But my gratitude to the M-C-P runs deeper than that … and here's why.

Gathering my thoughts for this event provided me a catalyst to look at diversity in Honeywell's Law Department with fresh eyes.

I concluded that - while we are doing an adequate-to-good job overall - we still have a lot of room for improvement.

Just as importantly, this process caused me to reach out to my staff and reaffirm my personal commitment to building a Legal organization at Honeywell that is as diverse as our company's customers … and just as diverse as the communities in which we operate.

It's the right thing to do … and I believe it will make our organization more effective and successful.

In a few minutes, I'll talk about some of the things we're doing to build a more diverse and inclusive Law Department at Honeywell. But first, let me give you a little background on Honeywell.

Honeywell has been around for almost 120 years, so you probably know us - or at least you think you do.

We still make great thermostats. But over the last century we've become a global technology leader in four strategic business areas: aerospace, automation and controls, specialty materials and transportation systems.

Honeywell technologies, products and services touch your life every day. They make our world safer and more secure, more comfortable and more energy efficient, more innovative and productive.

It is a profound understatement to say that the past six years have been eventful for Honeywell.

You'll remember, I'm sure, the successful 1999 merger of Honeywell and AlliedSignal. And you'll also recall that our attempted combination with General Electric two years later that was famously, or should I say infamously, rejected by the European Commission.

Dave Cote, who later joined us as Chairman and CEO from TRW says he is grateful to Mario Monti and applauds him for his wisdom in making it possible for him to come to Honeywell.

Like many companies, we've had our share of business challenges since September 11th and the economic downturn that followed. But, as Dave Cote said in his most recent letter to shareowners, Honeywell has turned the corner … and we see a very positive future for the company and our employees.

I am very pleased to say that the Law Department at Honeywell is an integral part of the company and its success.

For the most part, our lawyers are seen as value-adding business partners who contribute to the company's performance - and not the "just say no" crowd.

There are about 180 people in the Law Department worldwide, including about 110 attorneys in 21 different locations.

The size of our in-house legal staff has stayed relatively constant and our turnover rate has been relatively low. As a result, hiring opportunities have been rare.

When we do have an opening, it's very important to me that we make the most of that opportunity to strengthen our legal team.

Our hiring philosophy hinges on two objectives that I consider very important:

  • I always want to hire the best-qualified candidate that we can find.
  • And I insist that diversity be considered in every hiring decision.

I want to emphasize in the strongest possible terms that these two objectives are 100% compatible in my view. I don't believe that it has ever been necessary to sacrifice our high performance standards in any way to achieve our diversity goals … or vice versa.

When we do have an opening for an attorney at Honeywell, we want to hire someone with the intelligence, skills and experience to make the legal organization stronger and more effective.

We hire people who possess a healthy balance between "book smarts" and "street smarts" … who have the experience and confidence to work with business leaders and employees at all levels … and who have leadership ability and the potential to grow their responsibilities over time.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of those attributes in the legal profession today - and they certainly aren't the exclusive property of any one ethnic or racial group.

Because we so seldom have openings for lawyers at Honeywell, it's especially important that we cast a wide net in looking for the best qualified candidates.

For us, that means engaging the services of top-notch legal recruiting firms, including two that specialize in finding minority candidates. We insist that qualified minorities and women be included in the slate of candidates for every job opening.

And, it also means not placing artificial constraints on who is an acceptable candidate in terms of what law school they went to or what their class ranking was. Talent does come in a "one size fits all" resume. You must assess the candidates as individuals in light of their experience and leadership capabilities, not just their law school record. In the end, how do we choose? In all honesty, if two finalists for a job opening are equally qualified and one of them is a minority … I'm predisposed to hire the diverse candidate.

It has paid off for us. In the last year, 50% of the attorneys that we have hired have been women, and 33% have been minorities. We now have a Department where 37% of the attorneys are women and 12% are minorities. We are making progress but have a long way to go.

I believe that my organization has become stronger, more capable and more relevant as it has become more diverse. That's a trend I want to see continue and I intend to remain active in seeking opportunities to expand the diversity of Honeywell's Legal organization.

That said, I absolutely agree with Yale law professor and noted author Stephen L. Carter's observation in his book, "Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby." Professor Carter warns against what he calls "The Best Black Syndrome."

Professor Carter writes at length about the negative effects of choosing people based on their race instead of their qualifications. He expresses outrage over the suggestion that African-Americans can't be successful unless performance standards are lowered to accommodate them.

That was exactly the point that a lawyer on my staff raised recently. She was part of a group of people from various backgrounds I asked to join me and talk about diversity at Honeywell.

This person is a talented attorney who has been very successful at Honeywell. She said she resents any suggestion that she's been "given a break" because she's an African-American woman. I asked her if there was anything I could do … and she said, "Just keep giving me tough assignments so I can show people I deserve to be here!"

As I put together my thoughts for today, I also found myself recalling my days as a law clerk for Justice William O. Douglas at the U.S. Supreme Court. That was back in the early 1970s. My fellow clerks were comprised largely of male Caucasians from a small group of law schools. The janitorial staff, on the other hand, were almost entirely African-Americans.

Thurgood Marshall was on the Court then, of course. But as I recall, there were no Black, Hispanic, Asian or Native American Law Clerks then - even though William Coleman had broken the "color barrier" for clerks 25 years earlier.

It is surprising - and more than a little disappointing - how little progress has been made at the Court over the last three decades.

Despite a wave of embarrassing publicity and the ongoing work of the ABA Judicial Clerkship Program - there are still just a handful of minority clerks at the Supreme Court today.

This fact was not lost on Stephen Henderson, who recently became the first Black reporter ever assigned to cover the Court full time for a major news organization.

"On many, many days there is me and Clarence Thomas," he said. "There are Black faces all over the building, but most of them work in the cafeteria and in security and in support jobs."

That was also the case during my time at the Court, more than 30 years ago. So it's clear that the Supreme Court still struggles with diversity. But then, so does our entire profession.

There is a compelling and actionable irony here. Lawyers, as a group, have done more to protect the civil rights of People of Color - and of all Americans - than any other profession.

Our profession should set the standard. But instead, women and minorities are still seriously under-represented in our courts, in law firms and in corporate legal departments.

You know the statistics. While minorities in the profession have about doubled in the last 25 years:

  • Fewer than 15% of lawyers are minorities.
  • Fewer than 4% of lawyers are African-Americans and 5% are Hispanic; while those groups each represent more than 12% of the U.S. population.
  • About 5% of lawyers are Asian.
  • Less than one percent are Native American.

Those numbers are simply unacceptable for a profession that should be leading the way when it comes to diversity in the 21st Century.

The ABA and the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity have done a great job. They've put new focus on a long-standing issue and they've put programs in place that can help the entire profession move forward.

The Minority Counsel Program has made great strides by encouraging corporations to retain lawyers-of-color as outside counsel. As evidence, more than 70 companies have signed the "Call to Action" so far.

I applaud all of the ABA's efforts to bring this important subject to the forefront and unite every element of the legal community in addressing the issues - and the opportunities - that are part of the total diversity equation.

It's no great secret that one root cause of our profession's diversity problem is the challenge that we have in attracting the best and brightest young people - of all backgrounds - to this profession.

One of the 12 goals set by the ABA Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity is, "to assist minorities in attaining a legal education and admission to the bar." It's the first goal on the list, as a matter of fact.

And when it comes to solving our diversity problem, there is no substitute for filling the supply pipeline with minority lawyers who are smart, talented, energetic and motivated to make a positive impact on their organization … and on society.

But it's clear that we have a ways to go when it comes to getting young people excited about pursuing legal careers.

A recent Gallup survey of American teenagers found that just 4% were interested in becoming lawyers. That's less than half the number who expressed interest in medicine or teaching … and just barely above the number who said they wanted to become chefs or join the military.

Maybe their choice isn't all that surprising when you consider this: In a Gallup Poll last December, Americans ranked TV reporters well above lawyers when it comes to honesty and integrity. The good news is that we still score better than advertising people and car salesmen … but just barely.

But seriously, I do believe that - as a national legal community - we need to do everything we can to promote law careers and let young people know about the rich and satisfying opportunities that exist in the legal profession. I'd challenge you to dive deep into the cultural and social root causes that result in a profession that still does not fully reflect the diverse faces of our country.

Again, I want to thank the ABA and recognize all that this organization is doing to bring attention, focus and resources to this important topic.

Keep up the good work … you're helping to create a better, more effective, more diverse legal community in which we can all take pride.

Now, I'd be happy to answer any questions you have.

Back to this issue's Table of Contents