General Counsel, Huttig Building Products
After working for the Illinois Senate staff for two years, Rebecca Kujawa viewed going to law school as a natural progression. Being part of the legislation process and seeing how things were done piqued her interest, she said.
“In respect to law, I’ve always been interested in the business side of things — contracts, partnerships and creating contracts to work together,” she said.
After earning her law degree at the University of Illinois College of Law in 2002, Kujawa began her legal career as an associate for what was then Blackwell Sanders. She worked there for six years before landing at Peabody Energy, where during the next four years she held positions ranging from senior counsel to vice president of business development to general counsel.
Kujawa said her legal education helped her at Peabody by equipping her with the tools to address disputes and understand how a business runs in order to make informed decisions, rather than just give opinions.
She joined Huttig Building Products, which isn’t as large as the Fortune 500 global coal company, in 2014.
“I think I like the smaller team because I am more involved in the decision-making and can play a bigger role in managing the business as well as getting to know each aspect of the business,” she said. “When you have a leaner management team and leaner operations, you can see the impact you have, and you have a bigger impact than in a larger corporate team.”
Since joining the Huttig team, she has helped to launch multiple growth initiatives and set up the company’s international global supply-chain team, contributing to departments outside of the legal department.
“Rebecca is a corporate attorney with significant expertise in compliance issues for public companies. . . . Her grasp of the legal issues and strategies in those areas is remarkable for a non-specialist. Also, I have observed her counseling upper management and middle management at Huttig. She has their utmost respect and confidence,” her nominator wrote.
Kujawa said her favorite thing about her current position isn’t unique to law: It’s the opportunity to work with a team and implement the initiatives its members all believe in and strive to accomplish.
“It’s been a nice progression to see where we were and where we are at now, and my contribution in that process,” she said.
Kujawa advises young lawyers to be patient and open to different kinds of opportunities.
“I would say as being a lawyer, you have a unique skill set in how you look at information and evaluate information [that] will be useful,” she said. “And that’s the other thing: Despite going to law school and being a lawyer, be open-minded [to other career options].”
She also urges mothers like herself to remember to set reasonable expectations when it comes to work/life balance. She wants women to know they can have both a family and a career.
“I will say that I disagree with people who say you can’t have both — but there is a balance,” she said, adding that her own children keep her busy outside of work.