In celebration of Mother’s Day on May 9, we recently had the pleasure of talking with attorney Susan Wissink. As a member of our six-person Management Committee and chair of the Fennemore Foundation, Susan’s leadership and vision help set the tone and direction of the firm. As a Phoenix-based business attorney, she assists her clients in forming new companies, strategic partnerships, commercial loans, general corporate matters and commercial health care matters. With a B.A. in English from Northwestern University, and a J.D. from Arizona State, Susan has worked in the legal field for 25 years, the past 18 as a director.
Outside of her work as a sought-after business attorney, her favorite hobbies are spending time with her family, snow skiing, hiking, biking, and volunteering for local charities that help children or animals.
You’re the mother of triplets – and also one of the most high-profile attorneys at Fennemore, serving on the firm’s Management Committee. Talk about what that balance – or blur – is like. How do you do it?
I am often asked the question of what it is like to raise triplets, and it’s a hard question to answer. My husband and I went from a family of two to a family of five overnight, so our only basis of comparison is to what life was like before kids. Admittedly, we thought we were busy then so we learned what busy really was once the three of them were born. Any working parent understands the struggle of trying to balance a family with a career, and it can be daunting at times. For me, I try to only take on what I believe I can handle at the stage of my life or my kids’ lives. For instance, I would not have served on the management committee before my children were in high school, but the timing was great for me to take the position during their freshman year of high school. I try to be easy on myself and others by realizing that perfection is not always achievable.
In honor of Mother’s Day, what did you learn from your Mom?
That I was strong, independent and should use my talents to help those in need. My Mom is a terrific woman who donated thousands of hours of her time to help local charities. She always loved helping others and devoted her life to supporting my Dad, raising her children, and doting on her grandchildren. She showed me how to juggle effectively with a smile on my face!
What would you tell a young woman in law school – or your younger self – about balancing their personal lives with a career in the law?
One of the things that disappoints me the most is when young women believe that they cannot be both an attorney and a mother. Luckily for me, I had many trailblazers before me who showed me that it was possible. I would tell any younger woman or my younger self that there will be barriers and there will be struggles, but you can do it! Find a good mentor who has balanced working with family and find companies or law firms that are family-friendly. When my kids were younger, instead of taking clients to restaurants or to play golf, I invited them and their children to live performances of the Wiggles and Sesame Street (obviously these were clients with young children too). It gave us all time to network while spending time with our families.
Tell us about your biggest failure. How did you pick up the pieces? And what did you learn?
My father, with whom I was very close, took his own life three years ago. I knew that he was struggling and tried to help, but failed in appreciating the depth of his personal despair. Through this devastating time, I picked up the pieces with the support of family, friends and religious leaders. I learned a lot … first that those left behind due to the suicide of a loved one are not responsible for the death, second, that any sudden loss of life is horrific, third that mental illness (or the severity of mental illness) in others can be almost invisible to detect, and fourth, and most importantly, that your village is even more valuable in good times than in bad.
Who is your hero?
I have a lot of heroes so that is hard to answer, but each of my heroes shares the same traits of being bright, resilient, kind and good to others. If I had to pick one, I would pick Oprah Winfrey.
What’s your go-to Karaoke song?
Hands down, “I Will Survive”.
Even though we’re heading into “post-pandemic life,” many of us are still remote working warriors. What are you currently reading – and what are your streaming?
I have a Kindle and read all of the time. I like to read legal thrillers, mysteries and historical fiction. I just finished reading “The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett for a book club that I’m a member of and am about to finally read “Where the Crawdads Sing”. In terms of streaming, I love true crime podcasts like “Serial” and “Crime Junkies”. For video streaming, I’m finally watching “Modern Family” and love it! We binged watched a ton of shows during COVID so now I’m caught up on all of the newer shows and am going back to the older ones.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your children?
Every single person is unique … my kids shared a womb, a crib for months, a bedroom for years and the same nurturing and love as each other. Yet, they are each individuals with their own hopes and dreams. They have friends who are identical triplets, and these young women are just as unique from each other on the inside as they are alike on the outside. So don’t ever judge a book by its cover!
Okay, you’re throwing a lavish dinner party at your home. Name the three people – from any time in human history – that you’d invite.
William Shakespeare, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sandra Day O’Conner
Many thanks to Susan for inspiring us – and here’s to dreaming BIG! Like Susan, it is indeed possible to have it all – a family and a rewarding career – and to overcome heartache, and pain, and any challenges that life throws your way.
Look out for Susan’s upcoming Fenn, Talks podcast as she chats with Lindsay Moellenberndt about the ins-and-outs of hiring an attorney.
And to learn more about Susan’s robust business and finance practice group, please click here.