Before you close on a house or sign that unbelievably lengthy lease agreement, you might want to give La Guardia Smith Myers ’93 a call. If nothing else, the woman knows real estate. She knows property and land acquisition, she knows zoning, she knows title work and is a whiz at lease review. Myers has more or less done it all as a real estate attorney, and, with all that experience under her belt, she’s now tackling some new challenges, serving as the chief ethics officer for defense contractor and aerospace behemoth General Dynamics.
If you thought a job in the field of ethics is a nice break from all the legalities of real estate, think again. As chief ethics officer of a Fortune 500 company that counts the U.S. government as its top client, Myers must be an expert in compliance issues and knowing exactly how complex rules and laws, from the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to Federal Acquisition Regulation, affect General Dynamics’ employees and operations. That’s a lot of nitty-gritty, but Myers says her job really comes down to a simple mission: to make sure General Dynamics conducts its business in a fair and professional manner.
In other words, she’s there to help her colleagues steer clear of scandal and poor decision-making. She cites accounting and bribery scandals that have afflicted other large American corporations as examples of what she hopes to help General Dynamics avoid.
“Nobody,” says Myers, “wants to be on the front page of The Wall Street Journal for anything questioning their integrity.”
Her position as chief ethics officer has allowed Myers to return to her academic roots, applying lessons she learned two decades ago as a philosophy major reading Aristotle, Kant and other great minds. What fascinated her about philosophy was how it taught students “the ability to think, analyze and use logic.
“Looking at issues from various perspectives has been most useful to me,” observes Myers, adding that, in her current position, it isn’t always obvious what the most ethical action might be, which makes her philosophy training even more valuable.
Following her graduation from the College, Myers earned a law degree at the University of South Carolina School of Law and then embarked on a career in real estate law that took her to Richmond and then New York City. The work and experience were great, but she found herself working very, very hard – and she began to get lonely, missing her family far away in her hometown of Ravenel, S.C.
In 2001, she struck a compromise and moved to Washington, D.C., roughly halfway between New York and Ravenel. Around the nation’s capital, she found more work in real estate, eventually managing General Dynamics’ 56-million-square-foot real estate portfolio, which included everything from overseeing warehouses and office space to negotiating airport leases and selling surplus assets like mines and golf courses. Rather than consider the variety overwhelming, Myers embraced the challenge of learning new skills.
“It was just more exposure, adding another level of depth to my experience,” she says.
These days, though, despite the promotion she earned last year, her work is not all that occupies her time. Myers and her husband, Anthony, have a 4-year-old son, Anthony Jr. And Myers loves being able to attend concerts or go to the theater.
“I have finally found the balance I was looking for,” says Myers.
She just had to cover a lot of real estate before getting there.
– Jason Ryan
Photo by Mike Morgan
This story first appeared in College of Charleston Magazine.