Thomas Fessler ('83) is the vice president and general counsel for VSP a $2.65 billion not-for-profit organization and the nation's largest provider of eye care coverage. Thomas has more than 24 years of experience as a corporate, private, and public sector attorney, and his unique legal background includes global legal affairs, commercial transactions, litigation and risk management, and legal and business expertise in domestic and international acquisitions.
Here Thomas talks about Pepperdine, his career, and his secret to earning a seat at the high-stakes business table.
What brought you from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Pepperdine for law school?
I was born, raised, and educated in Milwaukee. Upon graduation I recognized that attending law school at Pepperdine in Malibu offered me the opportunity to pursue my legal studies in a new and unique educational environment.
In general terms, describe your law school experience.
Looking back at those years and the challenges of any graduate program, it was both personally and professionally a positive and enriching life experience.
Which professors impacted your experience at Pepperdine? Why?
In particular, Professors Davenport and Estes were instrumental as educators and advisors in my professional development and both exemplify the student-focused culture that symbolizes Pepperdine.
Your career comprises senior legal positions at ACS, Dover Elevators, and Buck Consultants and specifically as a General Counsel with the latter two companies. What do you think has lead to your career success?
I would answer that I have transitioned to recognize that the next generation of successful legal officers need to be first and foremost problem-solvers, and the cornerstone of that business acumen is a lawyer's ability to earn a seat at the business table.
With that said, I remain of the opinion that an open willingness to consider innovative solutions and resolve disputes through non-traditional means is critical for those lawyers who seek senior level management roles. A good example of this kind of mind set is a formal early case assessment program for all claims and litigation matters.
You moved from New York to Sacramento to join VSP in 2006. What attracted you to the company?
This was a special opportunity to join a not-for-profit organization that for the last eight years has been featured by Fortune Magazine as one of the top 100 best companies to work for in the United States. It has the further distinction of being named by J.D. Powers as the best vision care provider in the United States for "Highest in Member Satisfaction Among National Vision Plans."
Needless to say, I am excited to offer my legal and business knowledge and experience to such an accomplished organization and moreover lead its legal and corporate development teams to aspire to similar results.
You're also very involved with the School of Law as a Class Agent, member of the Straus Council of Distinguished Advisors, and member of the Board of Visitors. What prompts you to serve the School in these ways?
It is a means for me to be a member of the Pepperdine community at several levels and most importantly to personally participate in and positively impact its future growth, success, and standing.
What is your vision for Pepperdine University School of Law?
Through the stewardship of Dean Ken Starr and President Andrew Benton, that in the years to follow we are recognized nationally by our legal peers as a top tier law school.
What are some of your goals/initiatives for this next year at VSP?
Reinstating VSP's special and historical status and social mission of offering affordable eyecare as a tax exempt not-for-profit organization.
Out of all your professional accomplishments thus far, of which are you most proud?
I was more than honored to be asked to co-author a published business article with a business colleague of mine at Buck Consultants on the future of defined benefit plans in the United States.