When you were 17, what did you want to be?
When I was 12, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. In grade school, I had wanted to be a teacher, and then I wanted to be a stewardess. One of my mother's cousins was a judge and another cousin was a lawyer. I watched them, and I went to a trial with one of them and I was very intrigued.
How did you decide to attend Rider College (now Rider University)?
I knew I was going to law school, and so I decided to commute up to New Jersey [from my parents’ house] to save money. And so Rider was one of the options where I could do that.
I loved Rider. It was a great school, I met a lot of great people, and I got a really good education. I also started a peer counseling center. I had done a lot of tutoring in high school and college, and I’d read some articles about it. So we got space in the student center and got some peer counselors and started it up.
I remember going to the Dean of Students, and I told him that I wanted to go to a peer-student counseling conference in Peoria, Illinois. He told me he knew I must be really committed to the project to want to go to Peoria, Illinois [laughs].
How did you choose your major?
I started as an economics major, and then after the first semester I switched to accounting. I was always good at math, so it was a natural fit. And I decided it would go better with a law degree. And probably because around that time, I decided I wanted to be a tax lawyer.
I liked tax law because there is a pattern, a series of rules that you follow, and I'm a rule follower by nature. I strongly believe in a defendant's right to a trial, but I knew that I couldn’t defend somebody. And I thought, with family law, I'd get too engaged in all the family’s problems and child abuse and neglect, and I wouldn't be able to shut it down when I went home. But tax law is very technical, very logical, and it’s constantly changing and evolving.
How did you get from college to where you are now?
After I graduated, I went directly to the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law [in Sacramento]. I’d wanted to go there ever since I was 14 or 15. I never totally understood what drew me to McGeorge. I was born in Sacramento, so I had a bond there. And when my mother's mother died, one of her sisters told me that she had gone to McGeorge. So I think on some subliminal basis, I had a tie there.
I got a really good education there. Law school just teaches you how to think differently. I remember before I went to law school, everybody told me that something happens between the first year and second year when suddenly, everything makes sense. In my first year, everything was still hard. I would read a case three times and I still wouldn't get it sometimes. But in the second year, everything clicked.
I got internships at a few local law firms in New Jersey where my parents lived. I liked them, none of them was really big on tax law so I didn’t think it was long-term. When I finished law school, I got a job working at KPMG in their tax department in New York City. For the first nine months, I commuted from my parent's house, which when everything worked, was two hours each way. That was a horrible commute. And then I moved to northern New Jersey, and it only took about an hour to get in.
I worked in that office for four years. It was intense and a lot of hours. In the tax department, I would look at a client’s transactions and look at the tax expenses, and them advise them on what they could do differently. You can change the amount of taxes that way. If we had a client going through an IRS audit, I would go through the IRS assessment and then figure out how to prove to the IRS that they're wrong and my client was right.
After New York, I worked in Cincinnati for a little less than two years. I had been in New York City for a while, and I didn't really want to stay there. And the client I was working for was based in Cincinnati, so that’s why I went there. And then the Cincinnati office had some partners leave and I said was willing to transfer, so I went to the San Francisco office for a year.
I loved San Francisco, but I was tired of KPMG. A man that I worked on a big client with at KPMG had gone to FedEx and established their tax legal group. He called me one day and asked me if I was interested in coming to work for him. So I moved to Memphis and worked for FedEx.
Memphis is a hard place to not be from. Most people who live there have been there since day one. It was really hard to make lifelong friends, but I do have some amazing friends after being there for 13 years.
FedEx is a great company and I had great experience there. I got to do some amazing things from the tax perspective. Like I won a major case against the IRS that went to the Sixth Circuit Court and established tax law in whether or not something was a repair cost or an improvement to an asset. I’m really proud of that.
So I was with FedEx for 13 years. I was working constantly and I had no life, and I didn't know if I could change that there. I felt like I needed a break. I had gone to a spa after I had decided that I was going to leave. I wrote down how I envisioned my life, and I wanted to live in a place where I had really good friends, I wanted to live in a place where I could walk to Starbuck and walk to lots of places, I wanted to be able to sit in my bedroom and look at water and birds. So I wrote all of this down, and after I got the job at Chevron and I came back to California, I looked back at it six months later and I realized that everything I had written had come true.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
I would say that it’s important to set boundaries. It is okay to have a life. You don't have to solely do work. And it is important to be well-rounded. You don't want to say at the end, "I missed all this stuff because I wasn't there." One of the things that I am most proud of in my life is being an aunt to five wonderful children, and now, young adults, as well as the numerous friends, whose lives I've been allowed to be a part of over the years. It has enriched my life immensely and it's a great thing.