From rural farm girl to senior vice president and general counsel, Mary Helen Medina of Revel Entertainment details the path she’s taken to the top.
Growing up poor on a rural farm in southern New Mexico, Mary Helen Medina had plenty of time to reflect on her future and whether or not she would ever leave her small community. Today, as senior vice president and general counsel for Revel Entertainment, a $2.6 billion casino resort in Atlantic City, Medina continues to reflect, but now it’s about how she can contribute to the success of this start-up. “Honestly, I had a wonderful childhood,” Medina recalls. “We were poor, but my mother was resourceful and though we didn’t have money for the ‘extras’ like music lessons or vacations, I never felt deprived.”
Although higher education was never advocated in the public school that Medina attended, she possessed an internal drive bolstered by an independent spirit. “My drive really truly came from within—there was not one teacher or adult who inspired me, but I knew I wanted to go to college so I did,” she says.
What Medina didn’t know was what she wanted to be when she grew up. After living on a farm surrounded by animals, her first thought was to pursue veterinary medicine; however, during her junior year, Medina attended an internship program in Washington, DC, and, while there, she made a life-altering decision. “DC was a ‘Wow!’ moment for me—it was actually my first time outside my home state,” Medina says. “I worked with a Georgetown [University] law student and one day, when we were arguing about some point of view, he said, ‘You should think about being a lawyer.’ So, just like that, I changed the direction of my career.”
Medina admits that she was naïve at best about pursuing a law degree, but her independent nature took over. She sat for the LSAT cold—with absolutely no prep work or study—and did well enough to make her way back to Washington, DC, and Georgetown Law, and then her challenges really began. “I was blown away by law school—it was very difficult for me,” she says. “I was very studious, but I was not prepared for the ultra-competitive, almost cutthroat environment.”
Thinking Out Loud
Trading Words With
MARY HELEN MEDINA
A mustard seed.
Culturally rich. Familia.
Since she didn’t know “the rules,” Medina once again called on her internal drive, worked extra hard, graduated, and worked at two different law clerkships. After a few years, Medina found herself facing another life-changing decision: take a position with a top Washington, DC, law firm or an in-house position with Marriott. She chose Marriott. “I was weary of research and writing and wanted to get my feet wet, especially in litigation,” she says. And her feet were soaked quickly. “My first assignment with Marriott was a class action sexual-discrimination case,” Medina says. “The pace was fast and furious—it was a real sink or swim position—but working for Marriott shaped me. There was no mentoring or hand-holding and it strengthened my ability to be independent, work hard, and move quickly.”
Unfortunately, most senior level positions in the corporate setting were being filled from the outside rather than from within, so Medina left Marriott to join a law firm where she became partner, and was then recruited back to Host Marriott Services as a vice president. After several years, and a promotion to senior vice president and chief counsel, Medina found herself again parting from the corporate world, this time as a result of corporate layoffs. Determined to be at the top again, Medina accepted a position with Revel Entertainment.
Medina arrived at Revel in April 2011, one year before the casino resort opened. “Revel was a great opportunity to join a start-up company,” Medina says. “I was drawn to the challenge and how I could help build this company and be a part of its history.”
She admits being general counsel requires one “to wear many hats” but, most of all, requires you to look at your work from a business perspective. “It’s important to learn compromise, to successfully close deals,” Medina says. “You are not just a litigator advocating for a client—you are the client so you have to evaluate the risks and judge if a move is worth the risk.”
When asked about the greatest lesson she has learned in her career, Medina doesn’t hesitate. “Take courage and never fear challenges or failure,” she says. “The harder path probably helped me in the current job I have because I learned to embrace challenges.”
As for the future, Medina says she eventually would like to use her skills gained as a lawyer not to practice law, but perhaps in a business venture of her own. “My brain doesn’t stop—it’s always on fast forward—and the opportunities I envision are limitless,” she says.