During this morning’s Boardroom Breakfast, held at the Red Cross Building on the Fort Vancouver site, attendees were able to hear from Graciela Gomez Cowger, who was named the first CEO of Pacific Northwest law firm Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt in October.
John McDonagh, co-publisher of the Vancouver Business Journal and president of the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce, sat down with Cowger in front of an audience of community members and asked her about her career, her decision to attend law school and Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt’s decision to transition to a CEO model.
Here are 10 things those who attended the breakfast learned about Cowger and the Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt organization:
1. Born and raised in Mexico, Cowger grew up in the city of Tijuana. She moved to the U.S. after graduating from high school. Her cousin, who had grown up in California, had a condo to live in while she attended San Diego State University and her parents didn’t want her to live alone, so Cowger moved in with her and attended the university as well.
2. The biggest challenge Cowger said she faced when she came to the U.S. to attend college was constantly translating the things she was learning from English to Spanish in her head. “I knew English, I spoke it, but being taught and learning in English, that took a while, it was what they call a ‘cognitive overload,’” she said.
3. Cowger’s first wage job position in the U.S. was working at Fedco, which she said was a membership store similar to Costco.
4. Since she enjoyed science and math, Cowger initially attended college in order to obtain a degree in engineering. She was about halfway to receiving her master’s degree when she decided to change directions and attend law school.
5. Cowger’s first engineering job was with Hewlett–Packard as a reliability engineer. She then moved on to be a design engineer and then a manufacturing engineer with the company.
6. When asked why she decided to attend law school, Cowger said: “It was kind of on a lark. One day my brother said, ‘Let’s go to law school’ and I said, ‘Alright.’ I ended up getting great grades on the LSAT, so I applied (for law school) on a lark.”
7. One piece of advice that Cowger offered in regards to being able to juggle the responsibilities of being successful in your career and everyday life challenges: “Marry the right person, because that support is everything.”
8. Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt has offices in seven cities in Washington, Oregon and California. The law firm serves six different industry groups, and Cowger said Schwabe really puts their clients at the forefront, making sure they are experts in those industries in order to provide the best possible service to those clients.
9. Cowger is passionate about being positive and grateful every day; education; mentoring (especially young girls and women who may want to pursue careers in engineering or law); and providing people with different lenses to view the world through.
10. When asked what advice Cowger would offer to young girls/women, she said: “You have to build resilience and grit. You have to constantly get up and get going. That’s the number one thing I talk to young people about – developing that, getting gritty and having perseverance.”