Making Every Step Count

Lucy FATO ’84 recognizes every choice she has made—and similarly, every choice she might make in the future—as opportunities. She has embraced each experience and, in doing so, created her own building blocks for a career that has taken her to a global organization and opened opportunities to help others in ways that outweigh and outreach what most people think of as corporate philanthropy.
Lucy serves as Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Global Head of Communications and Government Affairs for AIG, a leading global insurance organization. She said there is no typical day in this role, nor does she want there to be. She finds fulfillment in the challenge of ‘connecting the dots’ for the CEO, the CFO, members of her team, the board of directors, and even regulators—equipping them with all the tools and information they need to collaboratively lead the company to success.

Her career path consisted of unexpected detours that enabled her to foster passions and build skills she didn’t know she needed, so it seems only fitting that her current work is just as gratifyingly unpredictable. Lucy invests in key connections with peers and mentors, some of whom emerged from her days at The Ellis School. Confident in her expertise and grateful for the wisdom imparted by others, Lucy embraces every opportunity to leverage her influence for good and empower the organization she serves to reach new heights of excellence for both the industry and the people it serves.

On Women Supporting Women

Some of the most pivotal moments in Lucy’s career occurred thanks to the support of women. In fact, it was a woman who thoughtfully hired her for one of her earliest and most formative jobs.

"When I was a student at the University of Pittsburgh, I interviewed for a job at Kaufmann's, thinking I would use my business and economics degree to go into retail,” Lucy shared. "The woman who interviewed me asked about why I wanted to work in sales, my degree, my interests...then she said, ‘I have something different in mind for you.’”

The woman hired Lucy in the new accounts department. For two years, Lucy learned the ropes of running credit reports and deciding whether to issue credit cards to customers. It might have started as a first job out of college, but she would go on to leverage that knowledge of credit reports and rating agencies throughout her career—including as general counsel for Standard & Poor's (S&P).

"It would have been so easy for that hiring manager to say, 'This is just a college kid, let’s put her anywhere.’ But she took the time to understand my goals and gave me a job that turned out to be a stepping stone,” Lucy said.

Another woman inspired Lucy to become a lawyer. When Miriam MUSGRAVE Goekjian '79—an attorney and classmate of Lucy’s sister, Annamaria FATO ’79—invited Lucy to shadow her in the courtroom, it had a deep impact.

"She was a public defender,” Lucy recalled. "Her job was to challenge police officers who arrested her clients about whether there was probable cause for the arrest.”

Shadowing Miriam in the courtroom was a day she’ll never forget. "Almost every client was a young man of color and Miriam won virtually every case,” Lucy said. "After losing one case where her client would go on to face a trial or take a plea deal, she turned to me and essentially said: this is how young men, particularly men of color, start to have a difficult time in life. While they may have committed a small crime, they would now have a record, making it hard to get a job or finish their education and they might end up in and out of the criminal justice system for years. Before that day, I did not appreciate what many lawyers do in our country to protect civil rights and I immediately thought, 'I’m going to law school to be like Miriam.’”

How She Elevates Corporate Philanthropy

Lucy graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1991. She officially began her legal career at Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York City, harnessing her business and economics background as a corporate partner in the firm’s capital markets department. Although she did not become a public defender, Lucy said her experience with Miriam stuck with her and, years later, inspired her to expand an already robust Pro Bono Program at AIG.

The program was started over a decade ago and provides free legal services to individuals and partners with non-profit organizations, helping people in need and people in marginalized communities, including veterans, at-risk women and children, entrepreneurs, and the transgender community.

In 2020, following the outbreak of COVID-19 and later the murder of George Floyd, Lucy thought it was time to expand the mission of the AIG Pro Bono Program to include a key pillar for Criminal Justice Reform.

"Still mindful of that day in court with Miriam so many years ago, I thought, 'I have to do this,’” Lucy said. "Our first criminal case was for a man in his late 30s who had been in jail for 10 years without a trial. It turns out, he had been in and out of the system since he was 12 years old. He could have been one of those young boys Miriam defended back in 1987, and here was his case, all these years later, in a full-circle moment. I knew we had to take it.”

Lucy continues to oversee the AIG Pro Bono Program, and has expanded it even more by hiring a dedicated, full-time pro bono coordinator and other dedicated resources for the program.

"AIG has always been a philanthropic company. Now, we are one of only three major corporations in the United States with full-time employees dedicated solely to pro bono work,” Lucy shared. "We have several hundred people globally who contribute thousands of hours, and that’s in addition to funds AIG contributes to The Legal Aid Society, the Innocence Project, Her Justice, and other charitable organizations. I am deeply proud of this work and AIG’s philanthropy, because it takes me back to why I went to law school to begin with.”

AIG has received significant recognition for its Pro Bono Program. Lucy joked that industry peers must tire of seeing AIG awarded, but she hopes the recognition will encourage other general counsels to give back to their communities in the same way.

"I hope to see many more companies implement dedicated support to pro bono work, do more philanthropic work, and do it on a global scale. As annoying as we are on the awards circuit,” she laughed, "I hope it inspires others to do the same so they can be the ones winning awards!”

Her Advice to Women in Business

Lucy’s wealth of advice for young professionals runs the gamut. She recognizes value in studying or living abroad, doing public service, and even learning how to golf. "It’s great for networking, relationship-building, clearing your mind...I finally get why all the men golf!” she laughed.

But a key reminder she offers people beginning their careers is that they shouldn’t feel discouraged if it takes time to find their calling. "Careers happen over a long period of time,” she said. "Take the time to find something that resonates with you. It’s going to make your career that much better. So slow down. Don’t feel pressured to do work you don’t enjoy, and don’t be afraid to take a step back in order to take a step forward.”

"I’m a big believer in what Steve Jobs said in his Stanford University commencement speech about 'connecting the dots of your life.’ You don’t know why certain things happen, but when you look back, it all makes sense,” she continued. In her own life, she cites the moment the Kaufmann’s hiring manager recruited her for new accounts, as well as the moment in the courtroom with Miriam, as perfect examples.

While women played key roles in Lucy’s career, she also encourages women at all stages of their careers not to forget about the men. "When I first started working as a lawyer, my biggest supporters were men,” she shared. "I became a partner at Davis Polk because of a couple of men who trusted me with high-profile deals. You need to build relationships with the people who have power, and most often, those people are men. Then, you can leverage those relationships by recommending diverse talent for them to hire, promote, or recruit for a board. That’s what I do, and if we all continue to do it, the voices at the table will get more and more diverse.”

Finally, Lucy believes it is never too late to become a mentor. She takes pride in doing this herself, especially by organizing quarterly networking dinners where she and other women general counsels empower the next generation of women attorneys to advance their careers. By creating spaces to actively foster mentorship and support, she leads the way for ambitious young women—likely creating pivotal 'dots’ for those women that, in hindsight, will connect into a career they could have scarcely imagined.

NOTE: Since the publication of this article in Ellis Magazine, Lucy FATO ’84 has been promoted to Vice Chair at AIG, effective October 1, 2023.
    • Lucy FATO ’84

    • Lucy FATO ’84, center, with her husband Matthew Detmer, daughters Malibu and Valentina, and her sister Annamaria FATO ’79.