Alumni Profile: Lisa Jeffries Caldwell (’86) not content with the status quo

Lisa Caldwell

When Lisa Jeffries Caldwell (’86) attended the School of Law, there were no black professors and the idea of a black dean leading the school was decades away. But Caldwell and four other black women in her class — Jeanette Peace, Marsha Grayson, Carol Waldron and Joal Broun — were not content with the status quo. “What do we do? How do we make an impact?” Caldwell remembers the students
asking.
Caldwell, who was a scholarship student herself, teamed with her black classmates to
create the first Black Law Students Association Scholarship banquet.

Twenty-eight years later, the BLSA scholarship is receiving new attention from Caldwell
and other alumni. The organization awarded three scholarships in February.

Caldwell has the satisfaction of seeing the law school led by Dean Blake D. Morant. She
knows there are currently about 40 African-American students. Her son, Tyler Caldwell (’14 JD/MBA), is one of them. Professor Luellen Curry became the first of a string of black faculty
members in 1989.

And Caldwell is still challenging the status quo.

The high school student who realized she would never make it as a doctor when she confronted her first corpse at The Governor’s School, has not hesitated to chart new paths
throughout her career.

In her current position as the executive vice president and chief human resources officer
at Reynolds American and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Caldwell has worked to make human
resources a mainstream part of the company, and not just the place where employees go to find out about their health insurance plans.

In keeping with Reynolds American’s “transforming tobacco” strategic vision, one of
Caldwell’s first moves when she took over HR was to transform her own department, concentrating on attracting the best and brightest employees, whether they knew human
resources or not.

“We really emphasize employee development,” she said. “It’s the people, after all, who
drive the business. My team has worked to broaden HR’s role in today’s business environment. I believe HR is the place to focus on the employees’ total well-being — their career well-being, financial well-being, physical well-being and social/community well-being.”

She does not hesitate to help people who have passion and drive advance. Nor, Caldwell
said, does she let someone who doesn’t pull his or her weight be a drain on the company.
In a panel discussion at the WFU Schools of Business in Charlotte, she told students that
they should not fear constructive criticism.

“Feedback is a gift,” she said. “People don’t like to give feedback. If they’re brave enough to give you that, you need to consider it. If you do the same thing over and over, and no
one corrects you, it basically ends your career.”

After the discussion, a young man approached her and told her that he was going back to
reconsider some feedback that had made him defensive and see if he could view it in a more
helpful light.

Before coming to Reynolds, Caldwell worked at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice and
West and Banks, both in Winston-Salem.

In reconnecting with the BLSA and seeing a new generation of students leave the School of Law, Caldwell said she values the training she received.

“I think law school is about a lot more than being a lawyer in a large law firm,” she said.
“There’s a level of self-confidence you gain in looking at a problem and analyzing it through the lens of your position and your opponent’s position.”

From Professor David Logan’s tort classes, she learned that it’s good to have fun while
you’re working. She has encouraged having fun in the workplace because it makes for a better
work environment.

And from Professor George Walker, she learned to think on her feet, whether speaking to
employee groups or in a board meeting.

“You learn how to be OK with being put on the spot,” she said. “If you don’t know the
answer, don’t wing it. Just be yourself. Say what’s on your mind. Don’t try to be something
you’re not.”