By Gail Woodfine
The St. John’s lawyer talks about her definition of success, mentoring junior lawyers, and her new position as NLOWE Chair.
Specializing in corporate law, Caroline Watton, a senior lawyer with McInnes Cooper, spends her time helping business owners to start, grow, and advance their businesses. During the pandemic, Watton found NLOWE’s innovative online sessions an invaluable tool to stay connected to the business community and decided to further her involvement in the organization. So the senior lawyer, community activist, and lecturer joined the NLOWE board of directors, where she can participate in strategic decisions for the continued success of NLOWE and its membership.
We talked to Caroline about her new position, her business network, and the one fear she’s hoping to overcome.
Why did you pursue a legal career?
I knew that a law degree would offer a variety of career options. There are even more opportunities for young lawyers today, as there are new areas of the law and specialties, such as privacy law. Legal professionals are problem solvers who learn to navigate an ever-evolving legal system, and therefore, lawyers possess valuable skills applicable to any business.
The handshake is an essential part of our cultural and business etiquette. Since the pandemic, in what interesting new ways have you greeted people?
If I was greeting somebody in business and they initiated the elbow bump, then I would reciprocate. If I initiated the business greeting, I prefer a simple nod of the head along with a friendly spoken greeting. If I was greeting friends and family, I was a big proponent of the COVID hug where you throw your arms open wide and hug the air while loudly saying, “COVID HUG.”
What’s your worst customer service story as a customer or employee, and how would you handle it differently now?
While no “worst” customer experience comes to mind, I have found in business and life that most good and not-so-good customer experiences are determined largely by the effectiveness of communication. The key is a meeting of the minds around the expected goal, followed by ongoing discussions concerning progress or impediments. Effective, continuous, and transparent communication often results in positive outcomes.
How do you define success?
Success for me in business has meant many things and has evolved throughout my career. Early on, success was taking the knowledge I learned in law school and applying it to everyday life problems, building a law practice, and acquiring clients. Later, it was providing excellent client service while continuing to build my network and to be a valuable member of the McInnes Cooper team. When I had my family, success was achieving a healthy work–life balance, and now as a more senior lawyer, success involves passing along lessons learned, mentoring junior lawyers, and assisting with their professional development. Success is a journey, and it’s important to have goals throughout your career. For me, it is about getting up early every morning (I am an early riser), making the most out of every day, and always maintaining a positive attitude.
What first drew your attention to NLOWE?
In my business practice, I work in the area of corporate commercial law, where I help business owners to start, grow, and advance their businesses. NLOWE was therefore appealing to me as the province’s female-based organization promoting the advancement of women in business through the evolution of their business. NLOWE offers female entrepreneurs access to quality information through its services and programs, wonderful networking opportunities, opportunities for development and growth, and celebrations of our female business leaders’ successes. During the pandemic, NLOWE’s innovative online sessions were an invaluable tool for me and my colleagues to stay connected in the business community. I felt that I could further contribute to the success of women in business not only by becoming an active NLOWE member, but also by joining its board of directors. That way, I could participate in strategic decisions for the continued future success of NLOWE and its membership.
What advice do you have for other professional women?
First, invest in yourself and commit to your continued growth; be your own biggest advocate. Whether it be signing up for continuing education to learn new skills or networking internally in your business or externally in the community, this will help you grow as a professional and bring you great personal satisfaction as well. Innovation is the key to success in business, and we should always be looking for opportunities to enhance our skills and development as professionals. Also, surround yourself with a great team and recognize and celebrate your team’s successes; an engaged team is an empowered team, and what gets celebrated and rewarded gets repeated. Lastly, I would say: look at any negative feedback or business failure or loss as an opportunity and not a setback. You have control over how you respond to what happens, so make a positive choice to learn from those occasions and pick yourself up and move on. The times in my life where I have felt knocked down—just like in the inspirational catchy song, I have learned to get back up again and be stronger from the experience.
What is your most important takeaway as a woman in a leadership role?
Empower other women. Find opportunities to promote women in your business, and give female colleagues responsibilities by delegating to and mentoring other women. I was very fortunate that early in my career there was a female partner who did that for me; she walked into my office one day and said that she was completing a term on a board of directors and that she had put my name forward as her replacement if I was interested. At the time, I was terrified, as I thought that I wasn’t qualified, but she had confidence in my abilities when I didn’t, and she was very supportive—so I said yes. It was one of the best opportunities in my career, from both a business and professional development perspective. Women often undervalue their abilities and suffer from imposter syndrome, so it is very important to promote women in your business and be supportive.
What’s the strangest way you made a business connection?
My husband and I were at a hibachi restaurant where we were seated with several other couples who were strangers to us. It’s an entertaining experience where the chef cooks in front of you—all the while chopping loudly and throwing utensils in the air. We talked to the couple next to us, and it just so happened that, like us, they were both lawyers working in the same law firm as each other, which is not all that common. We had a laugh over the odds of being seated next to each other in a restaurant far from home. We have kept in touch with them, and it has been a great business connection.
Where do you get your best ideas?
I get my best ideas during travel. I travel a lot both for work and pleasure. I am licensed to practice law in Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island and have homes in both provinces. Travelling between provinces gives me time to disconnect and to think and reflect. Also, I like to travel in my time off and experience new cultures and meet new people. A change in environment can be the best way to recharge, get creative, and come up with fresh ideas.
Name something you want to do that absolutely terrifies you.
I am absolutely terrified of heights. I would love to conquer that fear and go to the top of the CN Tower, stand on the glass, and look down. One of our children went skydiving and told us after the fact. I was paralyzed with fear at the thought of that, but thought wouldn’t it be great to overcome my fear of heights and challenge myself. I will tackle the heights of the CN Tower, but I’m not sure I will ever skydive!
Gail Woodfine is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator with NLOWE.
Caroline is a leading business law partner in our St. John’s and Charlottetown offices with a focus on banking and financial services, commercial financing and secured transactions, corporate and commercial real estate.
Caroline advises financial institutions and corporate clients on corporate lending matters. She has advised lenders and borrowers in financing transactions across a wide range of industries and sectors, including agriculture, commercial property development, education, fishing, health care, hospitality, mining, pulp and paper, retail and shipping. Her significant experience includes the structuring of security and drafting of commitment letters, loan agreements and security documentation. She has acted in the placement of a broad range of credit facilities including real property, general corporate financings, acquisition and restructuring financings, inventory and equipment financings and sale of loan interests. She also advises lenders in commercial enforcement matters including the vetting of and provision of opinions on the priority and enforceability of security.
In addition, Caroline provides strategic legal advice to startups, SME’s and large corporations on a wide range of corporate transactions and general corporate matters, including advising business owners, partnerships and corporations on business transactions involving reorganizations, mergers, acquisitions and dispositions, asset and share purchases, and commercial leasing. Caroline regularly provides advice to her clients on corporate governance and shareholder matters including shareholder disputes.
Caroline is active in her community and profession. She lectures in the area of business acquisitions and divestitures at the Newfoundland and Labrador Bar Admissions Course and also presents to the Newfoundland Bar Society on corporate and commercial legal issues. She is the Chair of the firm’s Corporate Social Responsibility Committee in St. John’s, and sits on the firm-wide Corporate Social Responsibility Steering Committee.
Caroline is a member of 100 Women Who Care – St. John’s and an Event Leader for the Ronald McDonald House Red Shoe Crew Walk for Families. She is currently the President of the Board of Directors of the Newfoundland and Labrador Organization of Women Entrepreneurs. She is a past Director of the St. John’s Board of Trade and the Board of Directors of McInnes Cooper.
A member of the Financial Services and Restructuring Practice Group, Caroline is the firm’s Client Service Team leader for one of Canada’s leading chartered banks. Caroline is recognized by Best Lawyers in Canada and the Canadian Legal Lexpert® Directory for her work in Banking and Finance Law and Corporate Commercial Law.