New at the top

New at the Top: Tekedra M. Jefferson, AOL

(Jay L. Baker)
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Monday, February 8, 2010

I worked at a real estate law firm as a student in high school. It was very stressful but it piqued my interest in law and, when I went to college in the District, I used the city as my university. I did internships with companies that lobbied on the Hill, researched papers at the Library of Congress and interviewed ambassadors on Embassy Row. I knew I wanted to be in the community that establishes the laws, practices and procedures that make all of this possible.

Upon graduating from law school, I worked at a law firm, focusing on employment issues for the first three months. During the holidays, when no one was in the office, I received an e-mail from a partner asking if anyone was around to do research on a telecommunications issue. I volunteered. The issue ended up being so fascinating to me. I was hooked. After that assignment, I kept doing telecommunications and, then after eight months, I integrated it with intellectual property work.

The dot-com boom was at its height, and it was an exciting time to work for an Internet company. I transitioned to a startup company. I did mergers and acquisitions that were mostly international. I became very proficient in managing risk in a business environment that needed me to be very business-minded as a lawyer.

As the dot-com bubble was bursting, I knew I needed to go somewhere more stable. I decided to reach out to AOL, and it happened to be looking for someone to do complex transactions.

AOL brought me on to do all deals with vendors supporting the dial-up access business. I spent my first six months working on one of the largest deals of that kind. I was new to the company, but there was no point where my general counsel felt a need to check up on me even though it was a transaction worth hundreds of millions of dollars. That trust let me know I was perfectly situated at the best company for me because I had the room to do what I wanted to do and do it well.

Eventually, I got to the point where I could do the deal stuff in my sleep. I really wanted a change, but I didn't want to leave AOL. I decided to shift to the policy side. It was a natural outgrowth of the deals that I was doing.

There were many times when decisions had a big impact on revenue. Instead of waiting to react to those issues, I would put together a briefing for the senior executives offering a sound course of action. I always made sure to stay proactive and even raise the unpopular questions.

I was told that whatever was given to me, I always took it on and made sure to do an excellent job at it. That's how I was elevated to this position. I'm really excited to build our voice.

-- Interview with Vanessa Mizell

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