In her 30-year legal career, Sara Finley ’85 has handled complex acquisitions, faced down a hostile takeover bid, confronted an involuntary bankruptcy filed by the state of California and been a key part of the executive team responsible for creating one of the nation’s largest health care companies. She accomplished these challenges not as a partner in a major law firm, but instead while rising through the ranks of a corporate legal department on her way to becoming her company’s general counsel.
“When I graduated, the accepted career path was to join a law firm and work your way up,” said Finley. But after making partner, she realized she wasn’t on the right path for her. An opportunity with a newly public health care company with $300 million in annual revenues led to two roller-coaster decades, culminating with Finley being named general counsel for CVS Caremark (now CVS Health), which today is a Fortune 15 company with more than $140 billion in revenues.
Finley recently established the Sara J. Finley Law and Business Scholarship for law students who have demonstrated an interest in corporate law or a business career. “One of the great things about establishing this scholarship is knowing that students interested in the business world might feel a lighter debt load or a bit more flexibility to choose the path they want to pursue,” she said. “Over time, there will be a community of people who have benefited from the scholarship, and it will be exciting to see what they accomplish in their careers. I can’t imagine anything more satisfying in terms of seeing a return on my investment. That’s the big reason I believe it’s important to give to the law school through endowment.”
Growing interest in the law school’s Law and Business Certificate program and the new J.D./M.S.F. dual degree also support Finley’s intent. “The legal industry has changed tremendously,” she said. “Now it’s common to have lawyers who are entrepreneurs, CEOs, owners or managers of hedge funds or private equity funds, or on the general counsel path. Programs like these help launch law students in a career in business, and I want to promote that, because that career path has been so enjoyable for me.”
Finley navigated a host of business and legal challenges along her way as the company she joined evolved into CVS Health, a health care corporation with almost 8,000 retail pharmacies, over 900 walk-in medical clinics, a leading pharmacy benefits management business, and expanding specialty pharmacy and home infusion services. In 2011, she began stepping back from her role at CVS, and she has since worked on special projects as a senior legal adviser.“
In some ways, I think it is better to be lucky than good,” Finley said, reflecting on her career. “Hard work alone does not guarantee success, and sometimes it is more a matter of taking a chance at a stage in your career when you can. My company survived many challenges over the years with strong leadership and great teamwork. It has become a great success story, and I feel very fortunate to have had the career that I’ve had.”
Finley’s affection for the law school began when she visited campus to interview for the Patrick Wilson Scholarship, which she received. Today, she continues to support the full-tuition Patrick Wilson Scholars Scholarship, which is sponsored by former Wilson Scholars. “I enjoyed the entire visit—the professors, the administration, the scholarship selection committee, and especially the other students vying for the scholarship,” she said. “I have lifelong friends just from that weekend. I knew this was where I wanted to be, and I am grateful to Vanderbilt for the opportunities it gave me.”