Kelly McNamara Corley, JD ’89, executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of Discover Financial Services, is the featured speaker at the 10 a.m. Winter Graduation ceremony, Thursday at EagleBank Arena.
Q: Your Discover career has been one of persistence and progress. How would you describe your professional journey at the company?
A: It is hard to imagine working for one company for 36 years—from summer intern to general counsel of a Fortune 500 company. My professional journey has been a blessing. Throughout my career I have been challenged to try new things and encouraged to develop new skills. I have been fortunate to have had a variety of opportunities to influence and support the development of my team members and to give back to the community—particularly through the development of an impactful pro bono legal initiative where our law department provides legal aid to underserved communities in Chicago.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you ever received, personally or professionally, and how has that advice helped shape your career?
A: The best piece of advice I have ever received came from my mom and dad, who encouraged me to always try my best and follow through. Trying your best requires going the extra mile in everything you do, and following through requires you to finish the job well. This is simple advice, but it is hard to follow—particularly as we take on more responsibility personally and professionally.
Q: What is the best thing you did in college, or early in your career, that prepared you to be successful?
A: I challenged myself and took some risks. I changed majors a couple of times until I found my passion—political science. I had no idea what I would do professionally with my degree, which seemed risky to me at the time, but my passion for politics led to my first job as an intern in Washington, D.C., which then led to a dream career in policy and law. Also, early in my career, I was given an opportunity to work for a competitor of my company for more money at the time. I turned the opportunity down because I valued the mentorship and support I was receiving and thought that would be more valuable in the long run. Focus on the long-term and don’t be afraid to fail. That is when you learn the most.
Q: What advice do you have for the new college graduate who may or may not have a clear sense of direction for their life and career?
A: You are not alone! When I graduated from college, the job market was really tough. I had lined up a three-month internship in Washington, D.C., but after that, I didn’t know what I would be doing. That summer internship turned into the pursuit of a law degree and a successful 36-year career as a lawyer. Being open, flexible and working hard are the keys to turning short-term opportunities into a long-term career path.
Q: What attributes do you look for in the people you hire?
A: My views have evolved as I’ve built a strong team to support the legal needs of Discover. I look for more than strong technical skills. In today’s workforce, it is important to be a cooperative team player and a person who works for mutual success over personal victories. I look for creative problem solvers who provide and accept ideas and feedback. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the value of being a good listener who is curious. Finally, it is critical to share opinions respectfully and recognize the value that comes from diverse and inclusive teams.
Read Kelly McNamara Corley’s speech here .