Ling-Ling Nie – Georgia Institute of Technology
You don’t have to let your career define you—in fact, your profession shouldn’t be the most important or interesting thing about you.
So stresses Ling-Ling Nie, the general counsel and vice president for ethics and compliance at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who spends a lot of time outdoors, mountain bikes whenever she can, supports the arts community in various ways, and picks up new hobbies regularly, like the banjo because, she says, “I just felt like I should learn it.”
“I certainly love working—I get a lot of fulfillment from achieving professional goals and helping people achieve their professional goals. But there’s a lot more to life than working,” says Nie.
She emphasizes that having outside interests not only alleviates pressure and stress but helps build commonalities and trusted relationships. Simply put, she says: “Having a life outside of work makes you a better attorney.”
Embracing a new challenge
Nie stepped into her role at Georgia Tech in March 2019. Her goals moving forward: establishing a “best-in-class” ethics and compliance program; enhancing and reorganizing the Institute’s legal operations; supporting her multi-disciplinary team while incrementally hiring; and promoting career development and diversity.
In her first few months on the job, she has focused on understanding the structure of the Institute and its communication channels, as well as identifying areas of opportunity as she works to build out a high-performing legal, ethics and compliance function, she says.
As she notes, Georgia Tech is deeply committed to cultivating an ethical culture for its students and employees. The Institute brought her in to consolidate many existing functions under one roof. The goal is to establish an ethics and compliance program that is tailored to the Institute and is consistent with programs “found in the world’s most ethical companies,” she explains. Once established, “the program and its leaders will help grow and guide the ethical culture here.”
As a member of the President’s Cabinet, Nie values the opportunity to contribute to the strategic vision of the Institute and appreciates the importance of ensuring her team of talented legal and compliance professionals clearly understands how their work supports it.
“Ling-Ling is an astute, talented leader and trusted advisor who works tremendously hard to bring out the best in her colleagues while promoting a team first approach,” says Ronald C. Machen, former U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and current co-chair of the White Collar Defense and Investigations Practice at WilmerHale, a trusted outside counsel for Georgia Institute of Technology. “She has the foresight to anticipate complex legal challenges and find solutions to those challenges while at the same time minimizing risk to her organization. She is extremely focused on obtaining success the right way—through collaboration and encouraging a culture of compliance and integrity.”
Machen adds, “My colleagues and I highly value and appreciate our strong working relationship with Ling-Ling and her colleagues. Under her outstanding leadership, we have no doubt that Georgia Tech’s legal team will continue to provide world-class guidance to the university as the institution moves forward.”
Diversifying your career ‘portfolio’
Born in London and showing an early aptitude for reading and writing, Nie was encouraged to study law by her parents—but wanted to explore other options after working at a law firm for a short time early in her career.
She landed at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, where she first learned about the ethics and compliance practice area. Nie was attracted by the variety of work, the opportunity to influence culture, minimize risk, and look beyond the legal questions and learn the “plumbing of the company” and how it operates in real time, in real life.
“I enjoy learning about organizations, learning the business of organizations, and adding value to business decisions,” Nie says. “Working in ethics and compliance affords you that opportunity. You’re not just limited to providing a legal opinion.”
After working in government, she took a job with Panasonic North America where she built out a global compliance program and was promoted to chief compliance officer. While at Panasonic, she also served as a division president of the company’s Women Connect organization, captained their 40-person Dragon Boat race team, and led a cycling team that participated in rides to raise money for charitable organizations in the community.
Nie was deeply involved with Women Connect, which offered programming highlighting the journeys of not only female leaders, but also male leaders who leveraged their influence to help women professionally. That inclusionary component is essential, Nie says; men and women must work together to advance diversity in leadership roles.
Nie has been recognized for her efforts in this area. In May, she received the Women’s Leadership Award from the Georgia Asian Pacific American Bar Association. She is also proud that Georgia Tech supports diversity and inclusion, particularly through its Leading Women@Tech program.
She was attracted to Georgia Tech, she says, because of its reputation as one of the most renowned research and engineering schools in the world, with strong business partnerships that “add enormous value to the educational experience of its students.” Founded in 1885 and based in Atlanta, the Institute has expanded and now has a presence in several countries including France, China, Singapore and Panama. Also, Nie adds, “I wanted something very different, I wanted to learn a new set of rules, a new environment, a new culture. Georgia Tech checked all those boxes.”
Outside of work—and beyond her many hobbies—she serves as a global mentor for the Sport Integrity Global Alliance and sits on the board of directors for both the Actor’s Express Theatre in Atlanta and Georgia Lawyers for the Arts. The latter offers legal support to artists, arts organizations and inventors, a population of people whose work is “invaluable” Nie says, but who are often taken advantage of.
“Through innovation and creativity, new and powerful ideas are put out there to the world that can actually challenge and change our fundamental beliefs,” she says. “Those are the things that move society forward in terms of being more inclusive, more understanding, more empathetic.”
Speaking of which: Nie has a sign in her office that sums up one of her own core values and her expectation for others, which simply states, “Be Nice or Leave.”
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