Women Who Mean Business: Martha Lofgren, Brewer Lofgren LLP
SBJ | June 15, 2012
Martha Lofgren is named among the region’s top business leaders in the Sacramento Business Journal’s “2012 Women Who Mean Business” special publication.
By Ed Goldman, Correspondent
Martha Lofgren’s law firm in midtown Sacramento is not an expensive suite of offices. “We’re not out to impress anyone with our décor. I have meetings here sometimes, but no one’s ever said anything negative. In fact, most people find this a comfortable place to meet.”
Décor aside, Lofgren has been impressing her clients and the community since she began her legal career at a San Diego firm in 1985. Less than a year later she joined the Sacramento office of a highly regarded national law firm — Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe — where she stayed for eight years focusing on public agency disputes, public finance and commercial litigation.
She credited Norman Hile, a partner at Orrick Herrington, with teaching her how to present cases in a persuasive manner.
“You have to think on your feet and your adrenaline has to be going,” she said. “It was very exciting but also very draining.”
The part of litigation that Lofgren enjoyed most was the process of discovery — figuring out what happened between two parties to bring them to litigation. Once a trial began, “I learned to think of what I was doing as simply and clearly telling a story,” she said. “Now, naturally that story had to be the truth. But that didn’t mean you couldn’t tell it in a compelling way.”
Her next job prepped her for a quantum leap: she served as Folsom’s city attorney for nearly six years, then became its city manager.
“My kids were young at the time, and I thought that being a government attorney would be less stressful than being in private practice,” she said. “I was mistaken.”
Being a city manager was challenging, Lofgren said, pointing out that she had “never trained to become one.” But her accomplishments on the job were many.
She managed a staff of more than 450 and a general fund of roughly $45 million. She successfully negotiated expedited funding, environmental review and easements for construction of the Folsom Dam Road, a $117 million project. She was directly involved in recruiting and retaining companies, such as Intel Corp. And she ensured the completion of community amenities including the Lembi Aquatic Center.
Lofgren left the public sector in 2006 “very much by choice” just before the economy slid off the cliff.
“I have tremendous respect and empathy for government officials who find it unavoidable to lay off employees,” she said. “I knew this would be necessary.”
She and attorney Roy Brewer founded their law firm the month after she left Folsom City Hall. Both avid hikers, the duo started visualizing the plan while hiking in the Sierra Buttes.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy public service,” Lofgren said. “It’s just that I realized, at heart, I’m a small-business owner. That’s what I enjoy, what motivates me.”
Brewer Lofgren LLP specializes in public policy, land use planning, permitting and regulatory issues, infill project development, economic development and transportation.
“Martha’s contributions,” Brewer said, “by way of public service and, subsequently, community engagement as a small-business owner … distinguish her as a leader among leaders in our region.”
Lofgren took a brief sabbatical from the firm last year when, for six months, she served as interim president and CEO of the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce. It was after Matt Mahood left the job, Pat Fong Kushida accepted it then changed her mind, and current chamber chief Roger Niello had yet to be recruited.
When interim CEO, Lofgren was part of the leadership team that created and implemented the Next Economy project, an economic revitalization plan for the Sacramento region.
Despite her affinity for business, it wasn’t necessarily a job she had coveted.
“You have to understand that I’ve never been a person with a plan — not for my life and definitely not for my career. What I have been is someone who always watched for opportunities.”
Lofgren’s volunteer résumé is as impressive as her professional one. She is first vice chairwoman of the Sacramento Metro Chamber and slated to be the 2013 chairwoman. She is chairwoman of Valley Vision, former chairwoman of the Folsom Lake College Foundation, a board member of the B Street Theatre and a 2006 senior fellow at the American Leadership Forum.
Also in 2006, she was selected as Woman of the Year, Fifth Assembly District, by then-Assembly Member Roger Niello, the man who would one day succeed her at the Metro Chamber.
Leaders learn from other leaders. Ann Madden Rice, CEO of the UC Davis Medical Center, serves on the Metro Chamber board with Lofgren.
“Sitting … with Martha has given me the chance to observe how she consistently applies the highest level of integrity and intelligence to all situations,” Madden Rice said. “She’s able to combine her impressive intellect with an innate sense of fairness and transparency.”
Her example helped “to lead others to work through complex issues to find creative and beneficial outcomes,” she added. “Martha is a true asset to the greater Sacramento region.”
Bumping up against the glass ceiling has never been an issue for Lofgren.
“I think the number of lawyers who are men and the number of lawyers who are women is pretty much the same,” she said. “But when I joined the world of city managers, there were very few women. But I’ve never had an experience where I was offered or denied a job just because I was a woman.”
Lofgren and her husband, Jim Lofgren, who’s executive director of the Rental Housing Association of Sacramento Valley, have two grown children: Julie, 24, who majored in early childhood education at California State University Sacramento; and Kayleen, 22, currently studying environmental policy at the same campus.
Lofgren’s mother was a kindergarten teacher. Her father was county counsel for San Diego, then Santa Clara. He ended his career as a judge.
“Both of my parents encouraged me to be an achiever,” she said, “to never quit anything just because on any given day I might not be enjoying myself. I’m sure I got my taste for the legal profession from my dad. What I got from my mom, no question about it, was self confidence.”
• Education: B.A., sociology, Wellesley College in 1980; J.D., UC Davis School of Law in 1985.
• First job: Recruiter for a graduate paralegal program at the University of San Diego.
• Dream career: I’m in it; I truly enjoy having my own business.
• Advice to younger women: Be adventurous. Watch for doors to open and then walk through them. Seek out one or two close advisers at every stage of your career. Always find time to enjoy family and friends.
• Typical day on the job: About one-third of my day is spent at desk work and one-third of my day in meetings; the rest will vary depending upon the type of issues I am working on. Much of the remaining one-third of my day is devoted to volunteer board activities.
• Favorite restaurant: Il Fornaio — but specifically on Christmas Eve; this is a long-standing family tradition.
• Favorite vacation spot: Anywhere in the mountains.
• Favorite book: “The Accidental Adventurer,” by Barbara Washburn, the first woman to climb Mt. McKinley.
• What’s on your bucket list? Summit a mountain higher than 15,000 feet, hike in the Canadian Rockies, hold a grandchild.
• Who would you most like to meet: I’d like to meet Daniel Craig; I’d like to have a conversation with Hillary Clinton.
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