Antonio Robinson | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND
The Confident Player
By Robert Green
As an Associate General Counsel at Carters – the largest branded marketer of baby and children’s clothes in the US – Tony Robinson has no problem speaking his mind. But as a boy he says he was shy and that playing team sports helped him to build confidence while teaching him what teamwork was all about.
Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Tony began playing on the basketball team at age 10 while his love for math and science pointed him toward a career as a doctor. Being a student athlete taught him how to make a tough schedule work. “You have to really be both – student and athlete,” he says, “so you learn to be disciplined, how to prioritize your time and meet all demands.” It also helped him think on his feet. In high school, he was one of the student athletes selected to be interviewed by USA Today for comment on soon to be implemented minimum score requirements for entering college athletes.
Tony succeeded so well in school and on the court that he was offered both academic and basketball scholarships when leaving high school. The University of Kentucky was extremely interested in him, but because they were just coming off of probation, could not offer him a scholarship for the first year. “I liked the idea of playing for Rick Pitino and I was offered a spot on the team, but I didn’t want to wait for the scholarship,” he said. With offers from other schools, like Tulane and LSU, his reasoning is understandable. In the end, he accepted a full athletic scholarship from Louisiana Tech in Ruston, Louisiana. “I picked it because it was a small town and a small university. I got the full college experience,” he says. Tony played as a reserve in his freshman year, started some games as sophomore and then started all games as a junior and senior.
It was while at Louisiana Tech that Tony made his first trip to Atlanta. “We won our conference tournament and earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament my freshman year and we played here in the Omni,” he says. “I remember enjoying my time in the city. It made a a great impression on me.”
Tony pursued his pre-med course in bio-medical engineering for three years before realizing that he really didn’t want to put in the additional years of study that medical school, residency and specialization would require, and decided that he would switch to law. He had begun to think about the law from a high level, how it could be a tool for achieving equitable and fair treatment. He also made another life-altering decision during his last year of college. “Just before entering my last quarter before graduation, , I delayed my pursuit of a career in the NBA” ,” he says. Tony explained that in order to have a chance at getting drafted, he would have had to drop out of school and enter NBA draft. “I made the decision to complete degree.”
After graduation from Louisiana Tech, Tony took a year off to work and save money. “I had been a student athlete for so long - where everything was about school, practice and games – that I felt I needed to experience the real world a little bit,” he says. He worked at the post office for ten months while deciding which law school to attend. It so happened that Tony’s mother knew a successful attorney in Shreveport and asked him to speak with Tony about the law school experience. “This gentleman had attended the Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and everything had worked out well for him, so I decided to do the same,” he says.
Tony’s favorite subjects in law school were Constitutional Law, Civil Procedure and Research. “I love challenges,” he said, “and looked at it all as a mental test. Most people viewed the Socratic method of learning as a challenge, but I thought it was fun.” He added that thinking both creatively and logically in tandem is a skill that anyone can hone over time. Near the end of his second year of law school a professor working with him on the law school’s mock trial team suggested he meet with her husband, a partner with an important law firm in Baton Rouge, to discuss a potential summer internship. Although his official interview with the Managing Partner was scheduled for Monday, Tony was invited to the firm’s picnic the Saturday before. He made such a good impression on everyone at the picnic that by the time he went in for his interview on Monday he was offered an internship for the second half of the summer immediately. Moreover, the Managing Partner wrote a letter of recommendation to his friends in other large law firms in Baton Rouge. His recommendation produced five internship job offers for the first half of the summer. “The partner who initially considered me for the opportunity told me to “pay it forward,” says Tony. The entire experience was eye opening. “I had applied for summer internships with all of these firms myself earlier in the year and had gotten no response,” he says, “but I learned how having a stakeholder plays an important role.”
After law school, Tony accepted a position with Jones Walker, the largest law firm in Louisiana. “I interviewed with them for three hours,” he says, “and what I liked about them is that they were very professional and collegial and also ‘cutting edge.’ Of all the law firms in the state, they had the best technology and technology support.” Tony started as commercial litigator and worked from Baton Rouge until his third year when he began to work both in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Tony began to specialize in labor and employment matters like employee theft of trade secrets and then began to deal with the usual employment issues like discrimination and Equal Employment Opportunity matters. “I learned a lot about dealing with business people and seeing things from the business, as opposed to the legal, point of view,” he says. On one occasion, representing a corporate client on a sexual harassment claim, Tony believed that the company had an excellent case and could probably avoid liability altogether. “But they decided to settle for business reasons and this was an important lesson for me in representing future clients. For them, the question often goes far beyond whether or not they can win at trial,” he says.
In 2004, Tony accepted a position with Jackson Lewis, a premiere labor and employment law firm, in Atlanta. “I seized the opportunity,” he says. “Not only would I be moving to a great firm but I would also be able to work in Atlanta.” In the new firm Tony did pretty much the same sort of work as before, but with the added task of dealing with large class action cases. “I knew it was the right move for me,” he says. “Being at Jackson Lewis in Atlanta put me where I wanted to be professionally, culturally and socially.”
It only took two years for Tony to make his next advance, when he was offered a chance to move to Littler Mendelson, the largest specialized employment and labor law firm in the world. In a short time, Tony became a shareholder in the firm. “It was very satisfying,” he says.
In 2010, the head of Human Resources at a prospective client, Atlanta based Carters, asked him to come to a lunch meeting with her and the company’s General Counsel about a potentially handling some matters for the Company. While discussing these potential matters at the lunch, they asked him for advice on hiring an in-house labor and employment attorney for the company. “They asked me to revise the newly created job description – what the duties and responsibilities would be – as well as defining what the salary would need to be. I agreed to help,” he says. Halfway through revising the job description, Tony began to realize this would be a great job for him “I called the head of HR and expressed my interest in the role. After joining the Company, Tony suspected the lunch was designed to pique his interest in the role, which the head of HR later confirmed with a laugh,” he says.
Tony felt that going in house would give him a chance to work more effectively with business and develop his risk management skills. The transition to Carters went well for Tony, which is not to say that he didn’t have to make some adjustments. “I had to adjust to the pace being somewhat slower,” he says. “I’m not saying that the company is slow. It’s just that in private practice things can be extremely fast because by the time a company brings in outside counsel the issue may have already reached the status of being an emergency. I had to get use to fewer emergencies and being involved in a more deliberative process from the beginning, which is good.” Tony also began to see that he liked “taking ownership” of his advice and that this approach was appreciated. “Instead of giving our business people three or four options and then telling them to decide, I try to take the approach of ‘if this were my company, here is what I would do,’” he says. “I believe that I have to take as much ownership of the risk as my business colleagues take in order to help the company make a decision.” Tony has enjoyed being part of the business process instead of being ancillary to it.
All in all, Tony has enjoyed working at Carters. “I like the people and I love the work that we do. The complexity of the work is rewarding and I like getting to ‘stretch’ myself by working on other matters around compliance, litigation, privacy and public relations issues,” he says. “Truly understanding and being involved in the business process has been a joy for me.”
Carter’s sells all over the world and had revenue of $2.7 billion in 2013. The company employs over 15,000 employees in the US, Hong Kong and Canada. Tony has traveled extensively on company business not only to company locations but also to places such as Singapore and Japan. In October of 2013, Carters moved to new offices in Buckhead at Phipps Tower. They have about approximately 900 people working on ten floors in a beautiful space.
Tony is married with two kids age 10 and 2. He and his family live in the City of Atlanta.
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