It was October 2020. Anna Ha — then an M&A and Private Equity partner in Sidley’s Houston office — was tapped to temporarily provide in-house corporate governance support to firm client United Airlines. Ha knew United’s business well, though she recalls corporate governance was not her primary area of focus at the time. “I helped United with strategic alliances and M&A transactions, and corporate governance was tangentially related to that, but it was a practice shift from what I was doing at Sidley.”
As Ha soon discovered, “I enjoyed spending 100 percent of my time doing corporate governance work and dedicating all of my time to one client.” Equally important, she liked the team, and in January 2021, was hired on-staff as assistant general counsel and corporate secretary. She was then promoted to her current role as associate general counsel and corporate secretary. The role includes advising United’s board and executive management on corporate governance, providing legal support for securities offerings and managing subsidiaries. “I’m part of the decision-making process in addition to giving advice,” she says. “You have to be business-minded, which was a skill I learned at Sidley and that I have been able to hone even further being that much closer to our business clients as in-house counsel.”
Ha and her team also provide legal advice on all of United’s quarterly and annual reports and quarterly earnings releases for the Securities and Exchange Commission and disclosure advice for all other public communications. They have also led the efforts to establish a framework around the company’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosures. This includes working closely with United’s sustainability, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), safety, government affairs, and procurement groups, as well as the internal audit and financial reporting teams to align and establish internal controls around United’s sustainability, DEI, airline safety, and political activities, among other ESG topics.
“I’ve become an expert in an area of corporate governance that is still rapidly evolving,” she says, adding that the ESG work has been a particularly interesting part of her day-to-day that she did not anticipate, involving enhanced stakeholder engagement and coordination with United’s board, management and operations teams.
“This is a very dynamic industry, and there’s never a dull day,” Ha says, even while acknowledging that she appreciates the predictability of having scheduled United board meeting dates through 2025. It’s a stark contrast, coming from her prior background in M&A, where deals were by turns exciting and unpredictable. She recalls working on matters at Sidley that shifted on a moment’s notice, either due to reasons specific to a deal or larger macroeconomic issues that impacted deal dynamics. During her eight years at the firm, Ha represented clients in the energy and consumer products industries, as well as aviation. She honed valuable client service and legal skills on such transactions as United’s acquisition of the United Aviate Academy, the only flight school to be owned by a U.S. carrier. Offering a career development program for aspiring and established pilots, the Academy’s goal is to have at least 50% of its incoming students be women or people of color.
Ha’s experience in the aviation industry actually hearkens back to her pre-Sidley days. While an associate at another firm, she and Mark Metts, who was a partner there, represented Continental Airlines in its merger with United. In 2012, Metts joined Sidley when the firm founded its Houston office. Ha joined soon after. Ha considers both Metts and Kevin Lewis — partner and co-leader of Sidley’s Aviation and Airlines industry team — mentors, crediting them for helping her develop excellent legal skills and strong relationships with clients, including “building trust by listening well, being available and being forthright and practical.”
Ha’s fondness for her Sidley colleagues, some of whom are now her outside counsel, remains strong. “I have my own personal bias, of course, but I think Sidley is a great firm, and I trust their advice and counsel,” she says adding that she has frequently turned to the firm for guidance, in particular, on novel legal issues that arose during the pandemic.
An avid traveler, Ha is grateful to have had several opportunities to fly the friendly skies with her family recently. This past summer, they took a trip to Korea, where they sampled delicious food across the country. “We explored Seoul and we chartered a bus with over 20 of our closest friends and drove around the Korean countryside. Both my family and my husband’s family are from Korea, and our children, who are 10 and eight, are third-generation Korean American. I was very thankful that we got to show them their roots, and that they were so delighted to learn about them. They have already done a lot more traveling than I ever did when I was their age, and thanks to my job, they’ll get to do even more!”
Published January 2023
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