After eight years at Winston & Strawn and an interlude as a high official in Illinois state government, Ryan Dunigan, JD/MPP ’12, joined Corning last year as the chief of staff to the company’s chief legal and administrative officer. Corning is a 170-year-old company in upstate New York, recognized today as a leader in state-of-the-art materials science. It has 50,000 employees worldwide and annual revenues over $11 billion.
“More than a few people—possibly including me—had thought I’d never leave Chicago,” Dunigan said. “I grew up there, went to DePaul before the Law School and the Harris School, and practiced law there. I love Chicago. But this opportunity seemed too great to pass up, and it’s turning out to be even better than I had hoped.”
His domain at Corning is far-reaching, extending beyond legal matters to many of the company’s administrative functions, including health services, aviation, corporate security, workplace services, and a large real estate portfolio. “I’m charged with making sure the right things happen throughout the whole department, and I get to see everything I could want to see about how a big organization is managed, legally and administratively,” Dunigan said.
As he works with department heads and others, Dunigan applies skills he learned at the Law School. “We’re always trying to boil things down to the core issues, looking for the best alternatives for solutions, including out-of-the-box solutions, and trying to avoid any kind of intellectual arrogance that might limit us,” he said. “Some of my favorite times in this job are like the best occasions at the Law School, where you say, ‘I hadn’t thought about that, but it makes sense!’ Everyone wins when you have a culture like that, in a business organization or a great educational institution like the Law School.”
He summered at Winston & Strawn and joined the firm right after graduation. “Like many other Chicagoans, I saw [Winston & Strawn partner] Dan Webb on television a lot, always talking about something interesting and always seeming to be doing what a courageous lawyer should be doing,” Dunigan recalled. “To me, Winston was the Chicago law firm, and I was thrilled to go to work there.”
After four years at the firm, he was invited to take the position of deputy director at the Illinois Department of Human Rights [IDHR]. The department’s director was on medical leave, so Dunigan managed the day-to-day operations of the department, which had a staff of approximately 130 people. It was a difficult time: uncertainty roiled all of state government as Governor Rauner and the legislature fought over budgets and policy directions, and IDHR had a heavily unionized staff at a time when Rauner was attempting to enact antiunion policies. “Plenty of people in the department were very reasonably asking, ‘Who is this new guy and what’s his agenda?’” Dunigan recalled. “Add that mistrust to an overburdened agency within a dense bureaucracy, and there were plenty of challenges. We maintained a good service level at an important agency and made a few valuable changes, and the personal learning experience was invaluable, but in all honesty, I was relieved when the director came back.”
He returned to Winston for four years, and then accepted his current position at Corning. Although he was again a new face with a big role, his situation has been very positive. “My boss, Lewis Steverson, is great, universally respected, and a fantastic mentor,” he said, “and even though I’m often dealing with people who have been at the company for a lot of years, there’s a broad commitment here to finding the best ways to do things, and doing that respectfully and collaboratively.”
Steverson tells his staff to focus at least five percent of their time on preparing for their next job. Dunigan said that for him that mission is clear: “I want to add value as a strong legal leader at a significant, progressive company. And I feel like I’m getting prepared for that nearly one hundred percent of the time.”