For Dawn Phillips, Exceptional Work Requires an Exceptional Anchor

A drive to achieve, coupled with staying grounded and focusing on authenticity, made Molson Coors’ Dawn Phillips into a change leader and strategic legal

Dawn Phillips went to law school because she wanted to do something exceptional. When she was growing up, that meant becoming a doctor or a lawyer. The importance of working toward a high standard was stressed to her—even as a little girl.

“The Holy Angels School on the South Side of Chicago encouraged me—and all of its students—to produce and achieve,” Phillips remembers. “Those words were literally written on the walls of the school. Because of the early messages I received there, along with parents who poured confidence in me, I had a sense that there were no boundaries around my life, that I could do anything and be anything.”

Dawn Phillips Molson Coors
Dawn Phillips, Molson Coors Photo: Jami Vandewoestyne Photography

That mind-set has never left Phillips, who is now associate general counsel at Molson Coors Brewing Company. “I’m always striving toward that higher standard and inspired by the excellence of those around me,” she says. “By leveraging the learnings along my professional journey, I have been able to embrace change, ground myself, and navigate from one space to the next as I reach toward that standard.”

After graduating from the University of Michigan Law School in 2000, Phillips started her practice on a very traditional path. She discovered an unexpected passion for legal work in the technology industry and found opportunities to counsel companies on a variety of issues. Later on, Phillips had an opportunity to practice with two other women in their own firm. As one of just three attorneys, Phillips says, she had to be a source of confidence for her clients and be very clear about what she knew—as well as what she didn’t.

“I learned how to use my resources and professional network for support and guidance as I handled new areas,” the AGC says. “It was an amazing experience, and an empowering experience, because it was the first time I realized that I had everything I needed to practice law: I had all of the education, I knew where to find resources, I knew how to use my relationships, and I knew how to be diligent in service of my clients.”

To this day, Phillips is guided by that knowledge. “It provides an anchor and a level of self-assurance that supports me during the changes and challenges of my career,” she emphasizes. “It’s what allows and inspires me to be resilient authentic and agile in my practice.”

At the same time that she was learning and growing within her own firm, Phillips was also working as a counsel at a mid-sized firm that was later acquired by a larger firm. Deciding to leave her small, women-only practice, she eventually became a partner in the corporate department at that large firm. And when the firm landed part of the legal work for a global renewable energy company building wind farms across the Midwest, Phillips was able to expand its role to become Midwest regional counsel for the company.

Dawn Phillips Molson Coors
Photo: Jami Vandewoestyne Photography

That was a game-changer, Phillips says. Her work on those renewable energy deals reminded her of the appeal of having just one client, and that appeal was one of the primary factors that drew her to her first in-house position at Motorola Solutions. “I wanted to be all-in with my client,” Phillips says. “Every day at Motorola, I felt that I was a part of the business, that I could give 100 percent of myself to the company. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

In 2015, Phillips was approached with an opportunity to join MillerCoors (now a wholly owned US subsidiary of Molson Coors Brewing Company). When she joined, Phillips says, it was immediately clear what kind of company it was and intentionally worked to be. “Molson isn’t about being the biggest and toughest,” she says. “It’s focused on being the best by putting out innovative, wonderful products, of course, but in a very responsible way. It’s a very socially and ethically responsible company.”

Even within the legal department, Phillips says, that sense of responsibility is always clear. “We know that we could technically get away with certain decisions, but we choose not to go that route,” Phillips explains. “We’re always creating, always inventing new beverages and better ways for consumers to enjoy our products, but all of that is balanced with a clear intention to do things the right way and to provide the very best for our consumers.”

At Molson Coors, Phillips is responsible for global commercial transactions as well as innovation, research and development, and intellectual property. She also serves as the legal lead for the R&D Center of Excellence, which encompasses all of Molson Coors’ work on new beverages, new production processes, and new types of packaging. “When I think about all the work we’re doing now, and the initiatives I’m spearheading to protect that innovation, I know that we’re taking something good and making it into something great,” Phillips says.

According to Phillips, it is that desire to do great, to uphold the high standards first instilled in her at the Holy Angels School, that first drew her to Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. “My sorority aims to cultivate high standards among women, and to help those women have a sense of unity as they go on to achieve and to provide service to the communities around them,” Phillips says.

She is also involved in a similar organization: Jack and Jill of America, which focuses on nurturing future leaders. “As a mother, that focus and drive to ensure that all children have opportunities to excel, is incredibly important to me. Jack and Jill helps children to do whatever they’re inclined to do, whether that’s through reading activities, leadership development, or volunteer work,” Phillips explains. “It’s the kind of program that stays with the children for the rest of their lives—setting high standards and cultivating leaders, just as my school and family did for me.”

Swanson, Martin & Bell LLP is pleased to honor our friend Dawn Phillips. We are proud of our partnership with MillerCoors and appreciate the opportunity to work with Dawn and her team. We wish Dawn continued success as she continues on the path of leadership while steadfastly being committed to diversity and inclusion.

“Congratulations to Dawn Phillips and Molson Coors for this well-deserved honor. Dawn is a great counselor and leader, exemplifying skills as a consummate planner and a skilled problem solver. Working with Dawn is always fun, challenging and rewarding.” –Reginald J. Hill, Co-Chair Patent Litigation and Counseling Practice Group, Jenner & Block LLP