Critical thinking key to alumna exec’s success.

Mary A. Francis ’86

By Emily Harrison Weir

Mary A. Francis ’86, Chevron's corporate secretary and chief governance officer, handles some of the corporation’s thorniest issues.  

One thing that helps her face these business challenges is a set of skills she learned as a Mount Holyoke College economics major.

“The higher you get in an organization, the fewer easy, black-and-white questions you get,” she said. “Critical-thinking skills were fostered throughout the Mount Holyoke curriculum, and that approach has really paid off for me.”

Francis said almost every class she took at Mount Holyoke challenged her to “look at all sides of an issue and understand motivations from different perspectives” before making a recommendation or decision.

Francis was one of two Mount Holyoke graduates, both lawyers, named by a San Francisco Business Times article as among “the most influential women in Bay Area business 2015.”

After practicing privately as an intellectual property lawyer, Francis was recruited to join Chevron in 2002 and was promoted to her current position in May. “I love working for this company; what we do is exciting. We provide the energy that enables development,” she said, noting that part of her work includes conveying that message to a sometimes skeptical audience.

“I recognize that we’re an industry that’s not on everyone’s most-favorite list, so it’s a nice challenge to talk about the good things we do and how we try our best to work responsibly for all our constituents,” Francis said.

Last year, for example, Francis took the lead in establishing a pro bono law program that encourages Chevron's lawyers to provide free legal services to underserved communities. In addition to coordinating the logistics and championing the project among senior management, Francis has accepted a case herself. She will represent a female soldier who is trying to receive veterans' benefits after suffering from trauma.

The program does more than boost Chevron's community relations, she said. "It's personally and professionally satisfying to take cases like this; to get tangible results for an appreciative person." It also gives Francis and her law colleagues a chance to branch out and learn new areas of the law.

She advises young professionals especially to seize such unexpected workplace opportunities.

"Career planning is a good exercise, but don't let plans limit you," she said. "Opportunities will present themselves that might not have been on your radar—or might not have existed—at the time you made your plans. It's important to be open to opportunities instead of burdened by a career plan."

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