Giannuzzi Lewendon Celebrates Women’s History Month
Kara Posner, Partner
At 37, partner Kara Posner has already become a prolific dealmaker, guiding the most well-known consumer brands through their most transformative and business-critical transactions. In the last year alone, she and her team have helped CPG founders achieve over $10 billion in mergers and acquisitions, while also managing the day-to-day contract and corporate financing needs of pretty much every young brand you’ve seen in the snack aisle.
In recognition of Women’s History Month, Kara took a moment to reflect on her path to partnership, the impact she’s had on the firm, and why she believes more female lawyers belong at the deal table.
What are some of your biggest professional achievements?
One of my biggest professional achievements was representing Suja Organics in its acquisition by Paine Schwartz Partners, which closed in the summer of 2021. I began working with Suja in 2012, which quickly gained a loyal following and became the nation’s leading organic, cold-pressured beverage brand. After an almost 10-year journey, we were able to help Suja overcome significant legal challenges as it struggled to adapt and stay relevant throughout the juice boom and transition the company into its next phase of incredible growth.
It was also a great personal pleasure of mine to see the amazing work that our team accomplished in the sale of BodyArmor to Coca Cola in November of 2021, a deal that was valued at over $8 billion, and the biggest deal in the history of our firm. While I always knew the transaction was in excellent hands with Nick (Giannuzzi) and Ryan (Lewendon), it was a real “wow” moment to witness the two senior associates working on the deal play such critical role, both of whom joined the firm long after I did.
The BodyArmor transaction is also the largest brand acquisition in Coca Cola history. Previously, one of Coke’s largest acquisitions was its $4.1 billion purchase in 2007 of Glaceau, the company behind the vitaminwater and smartwater brands, and Nick’s very first CPG client. Mike Repole, the co-founder and principal investor in BodyArmor, also helped create and sell Glaceau to Coke.
In some ways, the BodyArmor deal was a bookend for Nick’s legacy in the CPG world, which started with vitaminwater in 2007, and culminated with BodyArmor 2021, with both deals having a repeat founder and a repeat lawyer. It also goes to show what a hand our firm has played in some of the most important and pivotal deals in the food and beverage niche.
What contributions have you made to the firm as its first female partner?
Over the years, I have tried to take the lead in finding ways to provide growth opportunities for our lawyers, implement policies that promote flexibility, and cultivate firm culture and its definition of success—after all, the success of our lawyers leads to the success of our clients.
Generally speaking, I’ve helped launch new initiatives and systems to support the careers of our associates, as well as give the partners more access to information regarding billable hours and client payables. By implementing new and better systems to track associate performance and providing bi-weekly check-ins, I have also helped create greater visibility for associates regarding their long-term compensation and growth potential, in addition to just giving them the freedom to speak openly, and on a regularly-scheduled basis. Rightly or wrongly, the firm has always operated much like a family, so part of my goal as partner was to create systems specifically designed to let associates know we care about them, and that we are here for them.
In 2016, I was the first employee to take parental leave and advocated strongly for a generous paid policy, not just because I wanted it for myself, but because I wanted to set the bar for the future. I was also the first associate to request flexibility to work from home one day per week (long before the pandemic made remote work routine) after having my first child in 2016.
As the world began to go back to the office in 2021, I advocated for a more long-term remote schedule for everyone, using my own experience since 2016 as a data point. Currently the firm works remotely on Mondays and Fridays, which has greatly improved firm culture without sacrificing communication, accessibility or productivity.
Why should we have more women in leadership positions? What skills do women bring to the dealmaking table?
Over the past 100 years, women have gone from non-participants, to passive participants to active participants in the business world. Given this evolution, women have inherently been afforded less leeway to react strongly in the business setting, and are judged more harshly for doing so. For this reason, I think many professional women, myself included, have a natural tendency to pause before reacting, which I believe can be a huge plus in a deal negotiation. Not just because it can disarm your counterparty (who may expect a strong reaction), but because it’s a forced opportunity to think. Instead of getting heated at the deal table, I like to take a more thoughtful and patient approach, often saying I need to discuss whatever the issue is with my client offline.
I think the word “empathy” is a little overused these days, but I do still think it’s a superpower for women. Instead of suppressing this quality, we should embrace it and use it to our advantage. If a client wants a deal done quickly, it’s imperative to see the terms from the counterparty’s perspective, as well as the client’s, in order to have a productive and useful conversation.
I have found that empathy is especially important when working with CPG companies. Our founders aren’t getting seven-figure salaries and taking 30 vacation days. They are getting no salary and working 80-hour weeks. They are putting a second mortgage on their home to fund their first production run. They are pouring their heart and soul into something that has a very high likelihood of failing. Managing these relationships with empathy is critical to the work.
What advice do you have for female lawyers who are trying to balance work and family during one of the most challenging periods for working women?
To me, a strong support system, at home and in your work life, is key to your success.
At home, my husband and I divide parental responsibilities as equitably as possible. There’s nothing the “mom” should do or the “dad” should do—we both work full-time as lawyers, so it’s important for us to just jump in wherever and whenever we are needed, without getting bogged down with those more traditional roles. We are also extremely lucky to have Tina, our beloved nanny, who has been with us since 2016 and was our life preserve during the pandemic.
At work, it’s important to cultivate your client relationships, which will be very valuable to your career growth. However, it’s important not to forget the people around you, and remember to always offer support, mentorship or even friendship to create deeper connections. Outside of my husband, my best friends have always been my coworkers. I look forward to coming to the office because of the people. The work is interesting, and the brands are inspiring, but what I have always loved most is my team, my work family. A good team is the support system we all need – not just female lawyers – to get to where we want to be.
Lastly, I think it is imperative to advocate for what you think you deserve. It’s not always easy, and you can always be told “no,” but if you don’t speak up for you, there is a good chance no one else will. When I had my first child, no one at the firm had ever taken parental leave, so there was no policy in place. I felt strongly about what I wanted, and I asked for it, which candidly was not an easy conversation. I never doubted that I would be treated fairly (because Nick and Ryan are amazing people), but I was still terrified to be the first. Ultimately, I’m really glad I advocated for myself, because my parental leave experience in 2016 and again in 2019 (twins!) helped lay the groundwork for the parental leave policy we have now.
What is the most important lesson you learned as a first-year attorney and how does it inform your practice today?
Every first-year lawyer we hire is ending a long run of doing pretty much everything right—from high school, to college, to law school—and jumping into an environment where they will initially do most everything wrong. My best advice to any new lawyer is not to let your ego get the best of you, and to always (always!) maintain a healthy level of fear. Keep in mind that whatever you are saying, and especially any conclusion you are drawing, might be wrong. Second-guess everything. Double-check everything. Re-read everything. I did it as a first-year, and I still do it now.
Who is your greatest mentor in law and what have they taught you?
Although I would not be who I am without Ryan, Anthony, Blake and the rest of our team, my greatest mentor in law has been Nick. Nick drew me in, sold me the dream and kept me motivated. He convinced me that we were going to build something special, and that I could be a part of it if I wanted to. Thankfully, he was right, in every way possible.
When I started, we had four lawyers and 30 clients. Now we have 20 lawyers and over 1,000 clients. In the same way Nick did for me, I strive to be a mentor to our younger lawyers, especially our women lawyers. I want them to believe that we are continuing to build something special, and that I want them to be a part of it for as long as possible, ideally their entire careers. Looking back at what the firm has achieved in its first decade of life, the future feels very bright.