Mona Patel’s Tour de Force
She cycled, ran and traveled to France for Lance Armstrong. Now, as GC of LiveStrong, she works for him—and the 28 million people fighting cancer worldwide
Published in Corporate Counsel Edition - January 2010 magazine
By Paul Sweeney on December 7, 2009
Before she joined Lance Armstrong’s LiveStrong Foundation last year, Mona Patel flew to Europe three times, at her own expense, to attend the Tour de France and support the seven-time cycling champion.
She has also devoted sweat equity to promote his “live strong” message. In 2005, she cycled in a 24-hour relay from San Diego to Washington, D.C., led by Armstrong, as part of the Bristol-Myers Squibb-sponsored Tour of Hope team. The following year, she ran 26.2 miles in support of the cancer survivor’s first New York City Marathon bid.
“He’s such a dynamic person,” she says of Armstrong, the foundation’s chairman. “Lance’s enthusiasm is boundless. He shares a deep connection with cancer survivors and the people we serve.”
So in March 2009, when Patel signed on for what she calls her dream job as general counsel and executive vice president of people and organizational development, she was already a dyed-in-the-canary-yellow cancer advocate.
“I can’t even call it a job,” Patel says from the open, converted warehouse on Austin’s East Side that serves as LiveStrong’s headquarters. “It’s a passion.”
Patel’s early career path didn’t necessarily point to the nonprofit sector. At Harvard Law School, where she took an array of securities and corporate law classes, the standing joke among classmates was that she “majored in money.” After graduation, she practiced commercial and business law at the international law firm Ropes & Gray, then moved into jobs as head of legal and human resources at Patagonia and Athleta.
Along the way, she earned dual MBAs from the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and Columbia Business School. When Gap acquired Athleta in 2008, Patel worked on the “other side of the acquisition,” she says, by performing due diligence and making way for a seamless integration.
Around the same time, LiveStrong’s CEO, Doug Ulman, reached out. “He wanted to hire someone to lead its people, as well as legal, strategy,” says Patel, whose work also channels a very personal cause.
While attending law school, she would often cross the Charles River to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston where her brother, Ramesh, was being treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which ultimately took his life. Her mother—a widow since Patel’s father, a chemical engineer, died when Patel was in high school—was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago, and with a 40 percent survival rate, recently passed away. Armstrong was her inspiration.
And that is what fuels Patel’s passion for LiveStrong, which serves the 28 million people worldwide living with cancer, the No. 1 cause of death for people under the age of 85 in the U.S.
As general counsel, she oversees contractual relationships with individual donors and corporate sponsors, including Nike, Trek, RadioShack and Oakley, and helps keep the foundation true to its commitment to dedicate 81 cents of every dollar to its programs. She also oversees the merchandise program, which supports the tens of millions of wristbands that have been sold worldwide.
As head of human resources, she led a top-to-bottom organizational assessment, streamlining operations, and a compensation review. She is also updating its leadership and professional development programs.
“I wear a lot of hats,” Patel says in her low-key but upbeat style. “I can be as creative and innovative as I want to be in this job.”
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