With the celebration of its hundredth anniversary in 2019—and unsurprisingly its most successful financial year—Cummins had one very important message for its employees, partners, and public: challenge the impossible. The company was founded in February 1919 in a Columbus, Indiana, warehouse with four employees. The last century has seen that number balloon to 58,800 across the globe. Originally founded as a diesel engine producer, Cummins has moved into alternative fuel engines and generators that have helped poise the company to gracefully evolve into whatever the future of energy may be in the next century.
Toni Y. Hickey was part of that centennial celebration—and for good reason. As the chief intellectual property counsel and deputy general counsel, Hickey is working on the forefront of protecting Cummins’ groundbreaking technology. She is shaping the IP portfolio as the company races to advance clean diesel and natural gas technologies while also developing electrification and other low carbon alternatives to meet requirements in a heavily regulated industry.
Hickey’s pedigree, she says, might seem a bit nontraditional. She spent more than a decade rising through promotions at the US Patent and Trademark Office—including working as an IP Attaché at the US Embassy in Mexico City and serving as deputy chief of staff to the Under Secretary of Commerce for IP—before moving on to a senior counsel role at Foley & Lardner.
Since coming to Cummins in 2012, the attorney has again risen through several promotions to her current role. “With these roles, I performed different tasks, but they have something in common: navigating complexity, direct and open communication, and aligning on a strategic focus,” Hickey explains.
Those experiences have served as a perfect primer for her current position. In a period of rapid technological change, Hickey is well-equipped to help protect the IP interests of the multinational company at a time when Cummins is committed the design of all forms of power solutions, including cleaner, greener diesel technology, battery electric technologies, and hydrogen fuel cells.
“Landing in this role was not by happenstance. The sum of these experiences has prepared me to tackle issues head-on,” Hickey explains. “My diverse legal background has not only trained me technically as an IP lawyer but also as a business savvy advisor on a range of issues, legal and nonlegal.”
In short, Hickey is a lawyer who can read balance sheets and understand profit and loss, while feeling comfortable collaborating across a broad spectrum of complex issues in a diverse and multinational setting.
Hickey says she’s also had the opportunity to cultivate her leadership style and engagement in a way she never envisioned. With team members in China, India, the UK, and the US, she says the greatest satisfaction she gets is when her team or individual teammates are recognized for delivering a solution to a difficult problem.
“Building a team is tough” Hickey admits. “Building a global team responsible for managing highly complex legal issues is even more challenging.” But it makes the victories even more sweet, as Hickey remarks, “I love being part of a team that collaborates—you arrive at good outcomes.”
The evolving nature of Cummins’ business is a mindset that seems comfortable for the deputy general counsel. “I view change as the opportunity to challenge myself and enrich my interest in lifelong learning,” Hickey explains. “I like to feel like I can add value in different ways and change seems to help me do that. As a leader, I want to role model an openness to change, demonstrating that change opens the doors creating inevitable opportunities for growth.”
Coming to Cummins has also provided Hickey the opportunity to bridge more of her personal values into her daily work. As part of Cummins’ Advocates for Racial Equity, Hickey helps aid the organization’s commitment to fighting systemic racism. “I am focused on increasing the pipeline of diverse women and opportunities for young women to enter STEM fields, as well as IP,” she explains.
In fact, the company’s commitment to these issues was a primary driver in deciding to join Cummins. “I had been in private practice for a short period of time, and contemplating a move, both in my career as well as relocating to a new state, was a big decision,” Hickey says. “I was initially wary, but Cummins’s commitment to diversity and inclusion was a considerable factor in my decision to join.”
That personal commitment is on full display outside of the critical work she does at Cummins. A former Girl Scout, Hickey served on the Girls Scouts of Central Indiana board of directors, and believes that organization helps cultivate and develop future generations of female leaders. She currently sits on the board of directors with the Indianapolis Urban League, where the organization’s drive for racial equity, fairness, and opportunity is front and center.
And she continues to actively support US Patent and Trademark Office’s initiatives that focus on ensuring that the innovation cycle is diverse, inclusive, and equitable, including its National Strategy for Expanding Innovation.
“I could not be in a better place at the right time to do work that is so fundamentally important to drive innovation while also creating equity, fairness, and opportunity for all people,” Hickey explains. “I hope I can continue to use my position, at Cummins and in the community, to fight for what I believe is right.”
Foley & Lardner is deeply privileged to work with Toni Hickey. Her grasp of the nuances in the complex legal issues that she faces, coupled with her trust and candor while working with our dedicated Cummins legal team, allows us to function as a cohesive and collective work force.