Noni Ellison Southall, '97: "So Much on Her Plate, It’s Become a Platter"

Noni Ellison Southall

Last year, when Noni Ellison Southall, JD ’97, MBA ’97, received one of the many honors she has garnered during her career—in this case, from the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys for service to the community—the presenters were asked to describe one of her distinctive characteristics: the capacity to do more than most people, and do it brilliantly. “She has an indomitable spirit and will,” said Comer Yates, Executive Director of the Atlanta Speech School. “You would think that she’s been cloned about five times,” said Ceasar Mitchell, Atlanta City Council President. “Noni has so much on her plate that it’s become a platter,” said attorney and author Patricia Russell McCloud.

She was like that at the Law School, too. Realizing after her first year that she wanted to become an international corporate finance attorney, she decided to get an MBA, so she entered the Booth School, participated in the international business exchange program based in Manchester, England, and worked as a Junior Foreign Service Officer for the US State Department in Accra, Ghana. That wasn’t all—she also studied the economics of international health systems for two years on her way to earning a certification in health administration and policy at the University of Chicago, and she held several student leadership positions at the Law School, including as a cofounder of the International Legal Study Program, organizing the inaugural Israeli legal study tour.

She achieved her professional goal. As an associate at Vinson & Elkins for three years after law school, her responsibilities included international and domestic acquisitions and financings in various industries, reaching up to $3.5 billion valuations; she then served as the director of business and legal affairs at Scripps Networks in New York before moving to Atlanta with Turner Broadcasting. During her tenure at Turner, she rose quickly through the ranks, finishing her time there in the role of Assistant General Counsel and head of the music division. Her international experience at Turner was broad, including a posting in Hong Kong, where among many other things she handled an array of deals across the Asia-Pacific Region.

Now she has joined W.W. Grainger, Inc., the $10 billion Lake Forest–based industrial supply company. As Associate General Counsel for Finance and Assistant Corporate Secretary, she’s managing everything related to finance and treasury matters around the world as part of her far-flung responsibilities, which include being assistant corporate secretary of the company’s numerous international subsidiaries. “This is the exact role I started preparing myself for back in law school,” she says. “Grainger is a great company that takes the right approach to doing business. The company believes in placing an equal focus on its customers, team members, and the communities in which we work and live, which is very important to me.”

This brings us to all those other things that she has on her platter, the ones that make people wonder how many times she might have been cloned. She’s been married for eleven years to patent attorney Kenneth Southall, and they have two children. A partial list of her civic service includes two terms as chair and two as vice chair of the Urban League of Greater Atlanta, and ongoing responsibilities as vice chair of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority Board, as a member of the board of visitors at Emory University, and as a director of the National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications, the Atlanta Speech School, and the Southern Center for Human Rights. She has been honored by more than 15 organizations and publications for her service and accomplishments.

She says that her time at the Law School influenced her in many ways: “From my professors and fellow students, I was inspired to gain in-depth knowledge of differing views and perspectives on sometimes controversial issues, find common ground, and work together despite differences. All of those things have helped me succeed in the practice of law and in my other endeavors. Additionally, my experience as a law student working in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Clinic under the tutelage of Randolph Stone instilled in me the importance of public service.”