Meredith Sidewater | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND
Patience and Persistence
By Robert Green
In her role as Senior Vice President and General Counsel, LexisNexis Risk Solutions, Meredith Sidewater is responsible for all legal, compliance and regulatory matters pertaining to one of the country’s largest data providers of public and proprietary information.
“We assess risk and opportunity, working with nearly all of the U.S. P&C insurers and the top 50 financial institutions,” said Sidewater. “Our customers also represent 90 percent of the Fortune 500 companies and all 50 states in local and federal government, which keeps us busy.”
Meredith Sidewater was born in Atlanta and went to local schools through eighth grade -until a family move to Hollywood, Florida placed her in a small high school. “We didn’t even have a football team.” So when time came for college, she decided to go to a large school that offered quality academics and athletics. “Attending the University of Michigan was such a positive experience for me in so many ways,” said Sidewater, “and Ann Arbor was a fantastic place to spend four years.” She majored in history, having decided to attend law school even before getting to college.
Because she missed Atlanta and intended to move back after finishing her education, Sidewater decided on the University of Georgia School of Law in Athens. “I enjoyed many of my classes and valued my professors,” she said, “but law school for me was something to be endured, like boot camp. It was a valuable lesson in practicing persistence – not giving up.”
After graduating from law school, Sidewater clerked for then Gwinnett County State Court judge Melodie Snell Conner (now a Superior Court Judge in Gwinnett County), the first female trial judge in the county. Her work for the judge included reviewing motions, researching legal issues and writing memos suggesting decisions on cases. After two years working for Judge Conner, she accepted a position as an attorney in the litigation group at McCalla Raymer, an Atlanta based law firm specializing in real estate related matters. Sidewater’s work at McCalla Raymer included acting as counsel on construction disputes and divorce cases.
Sidewater then moved along with another attorney at McCalla Raymer to Blackburn Walther & Sloan to do litigation work similar to that provided her at the prior firm. Sidewater was just beginning to think about doing something other than firm work when an interesting offer was made by a client. In 1998, a software startup asked Sidewater to join them as their in-house attorney. She accepted and was soon doing more than handling legal affairs. As is often the case with in-house counsel, her responsibilities included a number of business activities. “The company went the way of a lot of software startups in the late 90s,” said Sidewater, “but I enjoyed it. Reading the situation, I stayed at the company for less than a year. However, the experience solidified my decision to work in-house.”
After leaving the startup, Sidewater decided to contact ChoicePoint, which had spun out of Equifax less than 18 months earlier. They were interested in her, and she was hired by then General Counsel Michael de Janes in January 1999. Sidewater soon found herself working as the lead counsel for the company’s largest business, Insurance Services. Although the work she performed was new to Sidewater, she made an immediate impact by employing her highly developed capacity for hard work and persistence. “It also helped that I quickly developed credibility and a great working relationship with the head of the business unit,” she says. “I was focused on getting deals done – negotiating service agreements with the largest personal lines insurance carriers in the U.S., managing merger and acquisition work and what litigation work there was at the time.”
By 2005, she had been promoted several times, finally to Vice President and Lead Counsel for the Insurance Services Group. That same year, the company made public the fact that it had experienced a fraudulent data access incident and detected identity thieves posing as legitimate businesses. Since that occurrence, LexisNexis has implemented robust security processes and rigorous controls to enhance security and privacy protections. “As the information landscape has changed, so have the concepts of privacy, security and compliance. While there is no silver bullet, we must maintain a holistic approach to management of these complex issues.”
In the aftermath, Sidewater gained a manager and mentor when Carol DiBattiste, who was well-respected for her distinguished career in the public and private sector, joined as Chief Privacy Officer and later Chief Counsel. “Carol DiBattiste was the most inspirational, fair and passionate person that I had ever worked with,” says Sidewater. “I wish everyone could have a mentor like her.” Sidewater became Deputy General Counsel in 2006, with responsibility for a number of attorneys. It has been over four years since ChoicePoint was acquired by LexisNexis parent company, Reed Elsevier, combining the strengths – data and a robust technology platform – of the two organizations. Persistence, patience and hard work paid off in early 2011 when Sidewater was promoted to Senior Vice President and General Counsel of LexisNexis Risk Solutions, taking on responsibility for all legal matters and attorneys across the business.
Over time, business drivers required Sidewater to become an expert in many areas of the law such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act, Gramm-Leach-Bliley and the many state versions of these federal laws. Her expertise was driven by demand – the demands of the business – in all areas affecting the company, with a heavy emphasis on data privacy. Today, she is recognized as an expert in the area of data privacy.
In her role as General Counsel, Sidewater finds her work as compelling as ever. “In the last decade,” she says, “the laws and regulations regarding privacy and data security have evolved swiftly.” As the General Counsel of a company whose products and services involve the provision of consumer information for evaluating risk – whether or not to move forward with a business transaction – Sidewater has a unique perspective on the speed of business. “Important sectors of the U.S. economy would slow to a crawl without the work we do, but we also have an obligation to provide data that is robust and reliable and that is managed in a secure fashion. Data and privacy go hand-in-hand, and a company’s commitment in this area should never diminish.”
The day-to-day management of a department adds a fair amount of administrative work to her list of responsibilities, but Sidewater remains “hands on” with respect to all matters critical to the company. “I’m very involved in mergers and acquisitions, important litigation and regulatory matters,” she says, and “always work closely with our Privacy, Security and Compliance and Governmental Affairs organizations. Work with business leaders in insurance, business and financial services, screening, health care and government is constant.”
LexisNexis Risk Solutions has continued to experience solid growth, while helping business and non-profit customers prevent fraud, law enforcement locate criminals and missing children, ensure medical providers have the appropriate credentials and patients are who they say they are and allow consumers to secure the best rates for insurance and obtain mortgages and credit. In 2011, overall revenue growth for the LexisNexis Risk Solutions’ portfolio was $1.4 billion.
All in all, Sidewater has enjoyed being an in-house attorney because it has given her such a strong sense of accomplishment. “We have to smooth the way for more business and handle all the necessary ‘hurdles’ that pop up – like regulatory matters. It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to do this work,” she says. In her job, giving input on public policy at the highest levels is just part of the job description. “It’s a dynamic industry and change is either occurring or imminent.”
Knowing that change is constant and companies evolve and need expert counsel compels Sidewater to do her best in every situation and take each day in stride. In December, LexisNexis Risk Solutions announced a new CEO, Mark Kelsey, and in January, the company announced the sale of its screening business to Symphony Technology Group. “Changes like these create opportunities for growth,” she says.
Sidewater’s positive attitude of patience and persistence is manifest in all aspects of her life. “I make a conscious effort to stay positive even in the face of extreme struggle,” she says. “90% of life is how you react to the experiences thrown your way.” Indeed, when Sidewater discovered that she had a deleterious BRCA1 mutation in 2004, she dealt with it as rationally and calmly as she handles her business affairs. Variations of the BRCA1 gene can lead to a greatly increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer as part of a hereditary breast-ovarian cancer syndrome. Based on family history, medical advice and growing evidence that it is the best thing to do under the circumstances, Sidewater decided to undergo prophylactic removal of her breasts and ovaries in 2008. She graciously shares her experience with others volunteering as a PinkPal through the Bright Pink organization as a means of supporting those undergoing similar life events.
Volunteer and industry association work take up a good deal of her spare time outside of LexisNexis. Sidewater serves on the Board of Directors of the Consumer Data Industry Association, the international group that has represented consumer data companies for over 100 years and is a member of the Advisory Board of the Future of Privacy Forum, a D.C. based think tank that seeks to advance responsible data practices. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Atlanta Chapter of the American Red Cross and in January 2013, she became the President of the Atlanta Chapter of the General Counsel Forum.
Sidewater has been married for 16 years and has two children ages 9 and 12. She and her family reside in Sandy Springs.
Secret to Success: Try to step back, read each situation, individuals, changes and opportunities accurately and be determined to be your best, not someone else’s. This patience and persistence to work hard has paid off in a great career.
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