Gail Lione is the 2012 BizTimes Women Business Executive of The Year. Lione was recently named to the board of directors at Brown Deer-based Badger Meter Inc.
Lione previously served as executive vice president general counsel and secretary of Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson Inc. from 1997 until 2010. She also served as president of its foundation from 2006 until her retirement in 2011.
Lione is also a director of Plymouth-based Sargento Foods Inc. and a former director of Imperial Sugar Company. She currently serves on the board of directors of the Bradley Center Sports & Entertainment Corp., the Milwaukee Art Museum, the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee, where she is the board chair, and Milwaukee Women Inc. She also serves on the board of trustees of the University of Rochester and on the board of managers of the Law Alumni Society of the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Lione is a member of the MillerCoors Inclusion and Diversity Advisory Council, the National Women’s Leadership Council of United Way of USA and the Greater Milwaukee Committee and will also be teaching a class on managing intellectual property at Marquette University Law School this fall.
“When I was first approached about the job (with Harley) in Milwaukee. I was very hesitant,” Lione said.
At the time, Lione was living in Washington, D.C., and worked for U.S. News and World Report. She says she sort of laughed at the idea of moving to Milwaukee.
“I was somewhat familiar with the area because we had just switched our printing company to Quad Graphics,” Lione said. “They really were the best and most innovative in the industry.”
Lione’s recruiter, a friend, was adamant about her coming out to Harley at least for a visit.
“Jeff Bluestein was doing the recruiting for the position at Harley,” she said. “I came out, and I was incredibly impressed. He was, and is, extraordinary. I was really impressed with the company. I knew at that time that I wanted to be a part of a company like that; where people really wanted to come to work because they were so passionate about their product. I knew the spirit of the Harley-Davidson brand would be a really interesting opportunity for me.”
Lione’s husband changed law firms and landed a job at Foley & Lardner, and together with her daughter, Margo, they made the move to Milwaukee.
“We love it here,” Lione said. “My daughter is really glad that she got to grow up here and it’s just been a really terrific experience for all of us.”
Lione grew up in Queens, N.Y. She graduated from the University of Rochester (N.Y.) with a bachelor’s of arts degree in political science and later decided she wanted to attend law school.
She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1974 and worked a commercial real estate and tax attorney.
“I was part of the first vanguard class of women lawyers, at least where there was more than one or two in our class,” Lione said. “I got into law because I was passionate about political science and at the time women had to proactively think about their careers and where they wanted to end up. It was more typical for women to relocate because their husbands had careers elsewhere. Being a lawyer offered me flexibility and interesting subject areas.”
Lione later moved to Atlanta to practice law in the commercial real estate and tax group.
“Real estate and tax law was my first love,” she said. “There weren’t that many women attorneys at the time. We could fit around a lunch table. We had to form our own club.”
After nine years in Atlanta and five years working as vice president of a bank, Lione eventually became general counsel for Sun Life Group of America Inc., where she managed all legal affairs, government relations and regulatory activities of five insurance companies licensed in all 50 states and affiliated companies, totaling in excess of $5.3 billion in assets.
Moving to the corporate side was a very deliberate move for Lione and offered her an opportunity to learn the business.
In 1989, Lione moved to Maryland to have her daughter, Margo Peyton, and later became general counsel for U.S. News & World Report and its affiliates, including The Atlantic Monthly Company, Applied Graphics Technologies Inc. and Applied Printing Technologies.
“It was a great time to be in the media business,” she said. “There were some pretty visionary people working there.”
Regarding her unusual success in such a wide variety of industries, Lione credits her continuing desire to learn and the insight her employers had to hire her on potential rather than track record.
“I am certainly not the norm for my class,” she said. “I’ve changed jobs probably more often and I’ve certainly worked in more industries than most lawyers I graduated with. For me it was very exciting. It has offered me a unique perspective on life and on business and I’m so thankful I’ve been the beneficiary of employers and sponsors who hired me by thinking beyond the normal criteria. I think it’s still true today; more oftentimes women are hired on track record rather than on potential. It’s helped me in business and it’s helped me from a board perspective in the insights I can bring to that atmosphere as well.”
In her spare time, Lione loves to play tennis and ride her Harley-Davidson motorcycle. She also spends time speaking on various topics and advising in the for-profit and nonprofit governance space.
“I’m looking forward to the next chapter,” she said.