Q&A: Heidi Lyon
Editor’s note: Each Q&A in the Influential Women enewsletter will feature a woman from the region who’s influential, a rising face in her industry or doing interesting work. Submit tips on potential Q&A subjects to tgortsema at grbj dot com.
Heidi Lyon is a partner at Warner Norcross + Judd in Grand Rapids.
Lyon practices employee benefits law, with an emphasis on retirement plan and executive compensation matters.
Her practice includes counseling employers, plan sponsors, trustees and service providers on designing, operating and maintaining employee benefit plans to attract, retain and engage a talented and diverse workforce at a manageable cost.
Lyon is currently a member of Warner's management committee and has previously served as chairperson of its employee benefits/executive compensation practice and professional staff committee, which supervises associates and paralegals.
Biggest career break?
If someone had told me before law school I would become an employee benefits attorney, I would have asked what that was and expressed surprise at the answer.
My biggest break came when I stumbled into an employee benefits law summer internship with the U.S. Department of Labor after my first year of law school. They asked if I knew anything about this area. When I said no, they were pleased. Apparently, the law students who did kept turning down the position, which involved a lot of complex tax and labor rules. I took that to be a warning but also an opportunity.
It turned out to be the latter. I found an area I really enjoyed and that created access to wonderful career opportunities.
My proudest professional moment was becoming a partner at Warner and celebrating with my husband, family and colleagues who did so much to help me get there.
Best advice you’ve ever received?
Every day do something that scares you. I hear this a lot. The first time was when I was a new attorney and a senior partner said it was how he’d built his practice. That has often been in the back of my mind when I know I need to do something but don’t want to. Sometimes those tasks can pile up but tackling them one at a time makes it more manageable. And it helped me take risks I wouldn’t otherwise have taken.
How did you make your first dollar?
Scooping ice cream for minimum wage. A family from my childhood church hired me to work at their shop, even though they probably didn’t need another employee. It gave me great respect for those who start their own businesses. This family poured everything they had into their business.
Vacation time with my family
I have it. When I came to Warner, I was impressed by the dedication and skill of people throughout the firm and the positive culture. The firm’s structure is less hierarchical than many organizations, which I think helps foster the culture we have. Continuing to learn and evolve has been something I’ve always enjoyed. In this job, I find I have significant opportunities to do that. The firm goes out of its way to encourage and support it.
If you were president for a day, you would … ?
It would have to include clearing the way for better retirement savings opportunities. There are many areas where I think employers and employees would benefit if we removed some legal obstacles: including facilitating electronic communication, which is now limited by old law requiring paper; providing greater protection against conflicts of interest and hidden fees driving up the cost of retirement plans; and simplifying what is required to maintain plans so they’re less confusing. Ultimately, I think this would lead to more employers offering plans and people saving greater amounts.
Last book you read?
“Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly. It was fascinating to read about the groundwork laid for space travel. I particularly enjoyed learning about the extraordinary talent and grit of the women who overcame so many obstacles to drive the program’s success from behind the scenes. It has been fun to share this story about what is possible with my daughter.
Your worst habit?
Always looking for the exception to the rule. It has served me well professionally many times but is hard to turn off at the end of the day.
Last search term you googled?
"iPad invented." To settle a debate with my daughter about whether it was invented in her life. It was. She couldn’t imagine the world before the iPad.
To unwind, you like to … ?
Head to Lake Michigan
Glen Arbor, Michigan. All year, I look forward to the time my family spends there each summer. My husband and I have been going there for over 20 years now.
Pizza at Cottage Inn in Ann Arbor
Person you most admire?
My mom. Her kindness, patience and un-ending energy are inspiring. She has encouraged me at every opportunity. When I wondered whether I should go to law school because there were too many lawyers, she was adamant — that should not matter. If I wanted to do it, there was no doubt in her mind it would work.