Years before she suited up for a role with medical device manufacturer Zimmer Biomet, Doña Reust was fashioning her exit plan from the fast food industry. At 20, she was a single mom of three, taking crew positions with McDonald’s and Arby’s. It was there that she learned process flow, customer service and the delicate art of managing expectations, moving from the front line to crew chief. But Doña wanted more – for herself, her kids, and their future.
Dress for Success Indianapolis volunteer and committee member, Lexi Fuson, a product liability associate at Faegre Baker Daniels, sat down with the current litigation associate manager for Zimmer to discuss how she made that vision a reality.
“I have always been drawn to issues of the law – right from wrong,” Doña says. “I consider myself someone who has high ethical standards, so I gravitated more toward legal work and what I could do there.”
She started “small,” transitioning into a legal secretary position with a general practitioner’s firm in northern Indiana. The role recalibrated Doña’s imagination to the possibilities. From there, she found a paralegal studies course in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and reached out to a male mentor at the firm for help. He paid her mileage, family and friends alternated babysitting, and Doña didn’t look back.
In 2007, while trawling Zimmer’s careers page for a machinist opening for her husband, Doña happened upon a listing for a paralegal. A lightning round of interviews later, she clinched the position. Since then, Doña has been promoted five times, earned two degrees and continued to embrace new challenges with open arms.
Lexi: We talk a lot about barriers at Dress for Success. What was it like juggling working life while going back to school?
Doña: That period in my life was very difficult. When it comes to overcoming the obstacles of time and the resources that it takes to go back to school or go to school, the support of family and friends was invaluable. And I realize some people don’t have that, but if there’s a mentor or somebody close to you who can in any way help you through – even if it’s just to overcome some of the smaller obstacles so that the big ones don’t seem so insurmountable – take it. Sometimes it takes baby steps to get there.
Lexi: What are some things you wish you would’ve known before you took the step to continue your education?
Doña: One regret that I have is that I didn’t go back to school earlier! Sometimes, you must put what you want to do on the side while you’re raising your family, but don’t let go of it and challenge yourself to keep going.
Several years before I went to college as an adult learner and worked on my associate degree in organizational management, I watched my son graduate from college. He’s a first-generation graduate. I was so proud of him and, in the back of my head, I thought, “You can do that.”
So, after he graduated, I told myself, “I’m going to do this – not just for them, but for me now.” And after I got my associate degree, I obtained my bachelor’s in health care administration.
Lexi: Beyond your passion for learning, what would you say has been the key to your professional growth?
Doña: When I first started [at Zimmer], I took a position as a paralegal, and I think my organization and diligence and, most importantly, my drive really helped me excel. I also need to add that ethics in the business world are very important. Doing the right thing is key, especially when faced with difficult situations.
Within about a year, I was promoted to a senior paralegal position, given the work I had done on a pretty complex piece of litigation that was just in its initial infancy stages. I operated as a senior paralegal for several years. In 2012, I decided to leave the litigation department because I thought I was getting a little bit of burnout. I took a position managing the field action department. I was able to have this terrific learning experience in the quality world about how products are manufactured and FDA regulations and guidelines, especially on the post-market surveillance side of things. I managed the field actions for the company for about 3 ½ years. Then, I decided to go back to the litigation world, which thankfully I was able to do.
Lexi: I’m glad you were upfront about burnout and that you were able to change positions within the company because of it. Are there any other things you did to reset yourself, so you could continue working at a high level?
Doña: You know, when you put yourself out there so much, I think you have to develop coping mechanisms with that – whether it’s listening to your body, time management … taking a nice, long vacation or finding something else to do for a bit. Also, having people hold you accountable, so you don’t get burned out! You can’t continue to give and give and give if you don’t have anything filling you up.
Lexi: What does your day to day look like now?
Doña: I’m currently pretty heavily involved in product and commercial litigation, so a lot of it is working on the discovery front, especially with electronically stored information (ESI). I’ve authored our corporate record retention policies and schedules and helped other sites establish policies/schedules specific to their facilities. I serve on the leadership teams for Multidistrict Litigations and liaison with external counsel as far as the needs they have in the representation of our cases. The opportunity I’ve been given as a non-attorney to have authority to settle cases and serve as the corporate representative at trial or with a mediator continues to be among the highlights of my career. Last year, I was able to mediate cases face-to-face with a federal court judge – truly an amazing and unforgettable opportunity.
Lexi: What would you say to women who are just getting started on their professional journey?
Doña: Remember that it is a journey – a journey that takes planning and perseverance to reach your own unique goals, which in the end transforms you. You will discover so much about yourself and what you’re capable of doing along the way.