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Theresa Nickels, Class of 2012

IB is celebrating 20 years of the 40 Under 40 in 2020, and will be catching up with past recipients to see what they’ve been up to since they were honored. This week features Theresa Nickels, general counsel, Baker Tilly.

What have you accomplished in your professional life/career since your 40 Under 40 selection?

Since my 40 Under 40 selection in 2012, I was elected to the partnership at Foley & Lardner LLP in the commercial litigation group. After two years as a partner at Foley, I accepted an offer to join Baker Tilly as their general counsel. As general counsel, I supervise the firm’s work with outside counsel, oversee firm compliance, and provide legal and business guidance to our CEO and other senior leaders. I also serve on the firm’s 10 member senior leadership team. In 2019, I was appointed by our CEO to chair Baker Tilly’s DIBS (diversity, inclusion and belonging for success) steering committee. In that role, I am responsible for implementing the DIBS strategic plan, along with identifying additional measures we can take to continue prioritizing diversity and inclusion at our firm.

What accomplishments, milestones, or endeavors have you attained in your personal life since your 40 Under 40 selection?

In 2013, I married my wonderful husband, Steve Nickels, who is a litigation partner at Foley & Lardner (and a fellow 40 Under 40 alumni himself). My daughter graduated from high school in 2016 and is currently a junior at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Our younger daughter is a junior at Middleton High School. In addition to our family time, I continue to be active with athletics. Back in 2012, when I was selected as a member of the 40 Under 40 class, I was an avid cyclist, competing in numerous 100k events each year. I do not do as much cycling now, but my passion for fitness continues. I am a member at Madpower Training, a fitness studio that specializes in hot, high intensity fitness, yoga, and barre. The best part about the gym though is the community emphasis. We are truly a “tribe” and the members support each other in all things, be it fitness, careers, or life in general.

If you were to “do it all over again,” what (if anything) would you do differently throughout your career?

This sounds like a cliché, but if I could go back and do it all over again, I’d pick the same path. I have the extremely good fortune to have spent my entire career at two firms that have allowed for sophisticated legal and corporate work, but in a work environment that respects and values the needs of all team members, regardless of their background. I have had a nontraditional career path, given that I had my older daughter after my freshman year of college. I continued on with college and then law school as a young mother. When I joined Foley & Lardner after graduating from law school, I came to the job with a different background and unique needs. Even though I joined “big law” with intense professional expectations, I was afforded respect and an opportunity to grow, and it was key to my success. The same has been true since I joined Baker Tilly in 2016. Joining the firm as general counsel was a huge opportunity for me, as the firm has over 4,000 people and 50-plus offices. While I was only 37 when I took on the role, I have always been assessed on the quality and value of my work, not based on time at the firm or my age as compared to other executives.

How did your 40 Under 40 selection help your career?

My 40 Under 40 selection has led to significant networking opportunities. For instance, the events periodically held by In Business have allowed me to meet numerous other professionals in the Madison community. My selection also led to my participation in other extremely valuable programs, such as Leadership Greater Madison. I am still in contact with numerous members from my Leadership Greater Madison class and utilize the skills I learned in that program daily.

What is something that you have a new passion for since the time of your induction — either professionally or personally?

I am extremely passionate about advancing diversity and inclusion initiatives, both internally at Baker Tilly and in the community at large. Since I have been appointed to oversee Baker Tilly’s diversity and inclusion program, we have instituted several programs that I am extremely proud of. For example, we recently rolled out a Pride Team Member network to ensure our LGBTQ team members are able to achieve a sense of belonging at work. We also started a NexGen program that is focused on team members aged 21–35, or with less than 10 years of experience. This NexGen group will allow our team members opportunities for professional development, networking, and a direct line to leadership. We have also started a mentoring program for our female team members from the staff to senior manager levels and are looking to roll that mentoring program out firm wide to include our ethnically diverse team members. We have also rolled out team member networks for moms and parents who travel, so that these groups of folks with common interests can share experiences, best practices, and the like. With respect to the community at large, I am a member of the Madison Area Diversity Roundtable, as well as CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion, a nationwide network of CEOs and other senior leaders who are committed to elevating diversity within their respective organizations and communities at large.

Based on your experience, do you have any advice for today’s young professionals (under 40)?

Get involved! The most rewarding aspects of my career have been when I’ve gotten outside the office and involved in the community, and when I have gotten involved in initiatives in the work place that I am passionate about.

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