Claudia Toussaint


Claudia Toussaint

Some of the most powerful influences in our lives emanate from things we cannot see – legal frameworks, for example. The impact of the law is pervasive not only in our personal lives, but also in the intricacies of our economy, and Claudia Toussaint has dedicated her career to understanding these intersections.

Growing up in Germany, Claudia originally found out about UCLA through the experiences of her mother, who attended the Westwood institution for a short spell before securing a Fulbright Scholarship. Inspired by her mother’s experience and the school’s reputation, Claudia decided to explore an academic experience in the United States; but her journey was not a walk in the park.

UCLA initially rejected her. So, she made her way to the admissions office, out of genuine curiosity, academic records in hand, to ask how she could improve her future chances. Upon further review, Claudia was offered enrollment at UCLA, and her life as a Bruin began on the heels of perseverance. “When you are curious, when you really want to understand the reasons behind decisions, that is something that can pay off in unexpected ways,” Claudia shared.

Claudia’s immersion at UCLA exposed her to one of the campus’ most appealing traits: its diversity. She did not just experience diversity of race, ethnicity or religion, but diversity of ideas, backgrounds, personalities, and even academic opportunities. In Westwood, she had the ability to take classes across multiple fields of study while establishing a strong quantitative background within her economics major. She found one of her strongest connections with an international student from China, and the two worked together to refine their interdisciplinary skills and exchanged perspectives about their very different countries of origin.

In 1988, Claudia graduated from UCLA with a degree in economics, and quickly sought to expand her skill set. “I thought the law would be a good way to apply what I learned, and build upon what I perceived as my strengths,” Toussaint said.

That fall, Claudia enrolled at University of California, Hastings College of Law, where she could continue exploring the intersections between business and law. Her experiences in law school built upon the analytical skills developed in her economic studies and enabled her to better understand the law’s invisible influence on societies. Once Claudia had earned the credentials necessary to become a practicing attorney, however, a new obstacle confronted her: a professional environment historically dominated by men.

In a field where less than 21% of lawyers were female at the time, Claudia secured a job as a transactional attorney at Morrison & Foerster in Los Angeles, spending five years at a firm that embraced diversity and her ability to practice law at the highest levels. But her greatest strengths still lay in her interdisciplinary thinking, and in 1997, she joined Sprint’s in-house legal team in the Kansas City area. She eventually went on to become the company’s Vice President and Corporate Secretary.  She used her talents to build diverse, dynamic and high-functioning legal teams, and to support milestone corporate transactions, including the elimination of the company’s tracking stock structure, the $35 billion merger with Nextel, and the spin-off of Embarq.  In the fall of 2014, after General Counsel roles in several companies, Claudia joined Xylem Inc., a water technology business.

At Xylem, Claudia serves as the Senior Vice President, General Counsel and executive sponsor for the company’s ESG (Environmental, Social & Governance) strategy.  She helps shape the company’s strategy and execution, all aimed at solving the world’s greatest water challenges with innovative technologies.  She also continues to be a strong advocate for building diverse and inclusive teams, knowing it will give Xylem a competitive talent advantage and accelerate the innovation necessary to realize the company’s ambitions.  Her contributions go well beyond addressing legal or regulatory matters; her days are largely filled with questions that require policy and resource trade-offs, with a heavy reliance on interdisciplinary data analysis and, ultimately, alignment with the company’s values of respect, responsibility, integrity and creativity.

“In economics, you think about resource allocation, and in my work I spend most days thinking about precisely that,” Claudia said.  “In addition, the grounding in economics finally enabled me to feel comfortable understanding, using and challenging numbers, whether they are about finance, operations or social impact,” Claudia said. “To make a difference, whether in business or in broader society, it is incredibly important to be conversant in the language of business, which largely is a language of numbers.”

Claudia now reflects fondly and with gratitude on her days at UCLA, where she says she learned a fundamental lesson: curiosity is invaluable.  “Professionally and personally, curiosity will drive your discovery of whether you’re on the right path,” Claudia said. “I really found my path when I became genuinely curious about how and why things are the way they are and I give huge credit to UCLA for awakening and nurturing that curiosity in me.  It is the reason I am so passionate about the value of learning for us as individuals and as societies.”

Deborah Feinerman

Deborah Feinerman

UCLA alumnus Deborah Feinerman, current Executive Vice President of Business Affairs and Legal at Paramount Worldwide Distribution, exemplifies the powerful woman—but she didn’t follow a sure-footed path to her success. After Deborah received a B.A. in Economics from UCLA decades ago, she veered away from a business-centric path and instead proceeded to Loyola Law School to pursue a J.D. She eventually went on to work at the law firm Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher in Los Angeles for just shy of 20 years. Following her extensive experience at the law firm, Deborah was connected to Paramount by a colleague, where she has moved up in the ranks ever since.

For Deborah, the choice to pursue Economics at UCLA was spearheaded by an interest in business more than anything else, although her interests spanned across a variety of social science courses. Law school was never a clear destination for her. Rather, it was her father who planted the idea of applying in her head, citing Deborah’s aptitude for talking and debating. Once she was accepted to Loyola, she knew she was going—though she wasn’t quite sure what her particular focus would be.

After graduating from Loyola, Deborah spent most of her time working in her law firm’s litigation department. However, she found herself gravitating toward business matters. She liked working on deals, though her path meandered through corporate work, banking work, and the like. Toward the end of her time at the firm, she had been working on entertainment related matters when one of her colleagues brought up the prospect of working in-house for Paramount—an opportunity Deborah grasped.

Now in a more business-centric environment as a lawyer at Paramount, Deborah believes that her foundation in law eased the transition from a law firm into a corporate office. Her current position at Paramount includes management duties alongside her legal responsibilities—she now leads a team and reflects on how stronger leadership roles adhere to more administrative and personnel responsibilities.

Although her time at UCLA was long ago, she believes her education provided her with a solid foundation to successfully pursue a J.D. Deborah is also thoroughly impressed by UCLA’s Economics program, which she claims has only been on an upward trend over the years and allows one to pursue a broad range of interests.

To all economics majors, Deborah would advise on staying focused on your goals, working hard and keeping your mind open to trying new things because you never know what may spark an interest. “The class that you didn’t want to take could turn out to be something you really enjoy or the professor that you thought was going to be awful that everybody didn’t like, might be the one you click with.”

by Aditi Ganesh and Myla Andrews

Andrew Demetriou

Andrew Demetriou

Long before Andrew Demetriou became a partner at Lamb & Kawakami, a prestigious law firm in Los Angeles, he spent hours Bunche Hall like the thousands of students currently at UCLA. His subsequent career as a successful attorney in the healthcare industry is a testament to his intellectual curiosity, dedication, and passion for economics and law.

At Van Nuys High School, Andrew joined the speech and debate team and during his senior year the national debate topic concerned reform of the American jury system. As a result, he was introduced to law and the legal system and spent hours in UCLA’s Law Library, learning techniques for legal research.  This experience was important in directing his ultimate career path.

Upon arriving at UCLA, Andy began studies in Economics, drawn by the rigorous problem solving approach to social problems of allocation of resources.  He also gained insights into business organizations and the function of the broader economy.  He joined the UCLA Debate Union, serving as its President in 1975-76, and established himself as a member of UCLA’s top team in his junior and senior years, twice qualifying for the National Debate Tournament. Andrew believes that his success in debate, and later as a lawyer, was bolstered by the critical thinking skills he acquired in his Economics classes.

After graduating from UCLA summa cum laude, Andrew went on to UC Berkeley to pursue his law degree.  His law schools studies contrasted with undergraduate work due to the expectations of mastery over intricate details and demanding subject matter.  He believes that his undergraduate studies in economics, coupled the research and thinking skills used in his debate career prepared him for such work and contributed greatly to his understanding of law. He notes that a lot of successful law students have economics or math backgrounds because these fields teach problem solving skills, and many aspects of the law address issues of risk allocation and responsibility, which are not unlike the allocation of resources in an economic system.

In the course of his law practice he was a partner at two major international firms, where he experienced a trend toward specialization and industry focus, dictated by demands from clients for deep understanding of their business models and financial needs. In the early 1990s, Andy began to focus on the health care industry, which had undergone enormous changes in the preceding decade, from a balkanized industry, dominated by standalone hospitals, therapy centers, and clinics, and small physician practices.  The 1990s witnessed the emergence of large health organizations combining groups of providers and facilities, coupled with increased federal and state regulation of industry participants. For the last quarter century, Andrew has represented health care providers in a wide range of corporate and regulatory matters. He is especially proud of having represented the UCLA Health system for several years, including the negotiation of the between Santa Monica Hospital and UCLA Medical Center and the affiliation between UCLA Health System and Orthopaedic Hospital of Los Angeles, bringing world class orthopedic care into the UCLA system.

Today, Andrew is one of the leading lawyers in the healthcare industry. He attributes his success primarily due to his sound understanding of the industry and the clients he works with. Most clients come with technical questions in mind and he has to understand their problem, explain the legality of their issue, and develop a reasonable and applicable solution. Business law, unlike litigation, is not about ‘winning’ but rather about understanding the client’s risk tolerance and delivering solutions calibrated to the client’s risk sensitivity. Successful lawyers must understand the demands of the client.

Aside from his law practice Andrew has always been active in volunteer activities in the community. At age 29, he served as Chief Protocol Officer for the Swimming, Diving and Synchronized Swimming events in the 1984 Summer Olympics.  His has devoted many hours of service to UCLA, as a member of the UCLA Foundation Board of Trustees and Board of Directors, Co-Chair of the UCLA Fund (from 1995-1999), an original member of the Board of Visitors of the Department of Economics and a member of the UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He has been active in a wide range of local state and national bar association activities, and served as Chair of the American Bar Association Health Law Section in 2007-08.  Currently, he is advising a Presidential Commission, which includes members of the United States Senate, the House of Representatives and leading private citizens, charged with the construction of a memorial to President Dwight Eisenhower in Washington DC.

We asked Andrew about what advice he would give to current UCLA students and he posits that students have to be intellectually curious in whatever activity they pursue. He recommends that we use the freedom we have in college to gain new experiences. Most importantly, avoid the mercenary attitude of taking a linear path and fixating on making money as the end goal. Find opportunities that challenge your beliefs—ones that push you to learn and create new and more dynamic beliefs. Embrace the learning experiences these opportunities provide as a means of self-improvement.

By Harsh Gupta, with Adithya Kumar and Charles Qian.