Gretchen Robinson

VP & General Counsel, Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation

Gretchen Robinson began her career as a lawyer in the Queens District Attorney’s Office, where she worked for many years before moving on to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, where she conducted administrative trials in the Administrative Prosecution Unit.

She joined State Government in 2015, when she became the Compliance & Internal Controls Officer for RIOC. In 2018, Ms. Robinson served as Senior Counsel to the Empire State Development Corporation’s Division of Minority and Women’s Business Development where she advised the Division on policy matters and proposed legislation that would affect the MWBE Program. She also advised other agencies and public benefit corporations around the state on MWBE matters; and defended the Division in administrative appeals.

Ms. Robinson grew up in Washington, District of Columbia. She received her Juris Doctor degree from the American University Washington College of Law, and a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences in French and Anthropology from the University of Virginia. She has over a decade of trial and oral advocacy experience and is admitted to practice in New York State.

Where did the idea for your career come from?

I did not come up with the idea for RIOC – Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation is a public benefit corporation and political subdivision of the State of New York. By its enabling legislation, “The RIOC Act”, RIOC’s mandate is to develop, operate and maintain the infrastructure of Roosevelt Island.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

A typical day in the Legal Department involves an array of legal questions that are presented by all departments and units of the corporation in an effort to serve the Roosevelt Island community and advance the goals of the corporation’s mission. With that, the Legal Department essentially fields questions involving labor and employment, contracts, licensing transactions, legal research, and matters of procurement, to competently advise RIOC’s Board of Directors, RIOC’s Executive Management Team, (including the CEO), on various issues that come up in day-to-day operations. The Legal Department is committed to creative and collaborative problem solving to get the job done.

How do you bring ideas to life?

As stated above, the Legal Department is committed to creative and collaborative problem solving, while also ensuring that such decisions are within the confines and in compliance with all laws, rules, and regulations. Since the law often does not have a a bright line answer and the problems that are presented are unique in nature, collaboration is key in coming to resolutions to those issues. It is about “how do we get to yes.” In thinking through an issue, I believe that there are many ways to get to end result and that requires collaboration, brainstorming, and teamwork. As General Counsel, I encourage my team to give their opinions and to “weigh in” on the task at hand. This ability of everyone to speak freely creates an environment of trust and unity that inevitably allows for the best ideas to be implemented for the purpose of solving the problem at hand.

What’s one trend that excites you?

What excites me about my job is the ability to actually see the results of our work. Being a part of an organization that engages in capital projects, it is a rare opportunity as a lawyer to see the concrete results of your work and legal advice. There are various infrastructure projects that are true, concrete examples that remind me that I and my team had a part in the development of those projects.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I am results driven and in order to stay organized I create “to do lists” every day. I used to put down everything in the universe of things that I have to get done or delegate to my team but I have over the years realized that each day I need to put the top three priorities down on a list to further focus and meet all deadlines while providing a good work product.

What advice would you give your younger self?

You do not have to be the most vocal person in the room to get a point across or to be deemed competent; observing more and speaking less will teach you a lot about how to read your audience; and your input matters and can make a difference.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Don’t be afraid to tell someone that you do not know the answer but always finish with the understanding that you will think about it and come back with an answer. You do not have to know everything and chances are that if you do not know the answer there is someone that will, hence the important point of collaboration.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

In terms of growing my career, I have been methodical with every position I have held to help me become a better, more competent attorney. Being an attorney is a profession that I always wanted to do.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Early in my career, I thought that I had to follow the footprint of all of my friends by working as a summer associate during law school, clerking for a prestigious judge after law school, and working in a private firm in order to make a lot of money. I quickly realized that it’s not always about the money but rather what is rewarding as a career experience. Being in public service has allowed me to have – in some instances – great impact on other people’s lives and you truly feel that you are helping people and situations as opposed to chasing money.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best $100 I recently spent was over the holiday season – I donated money to a charity that helps with food insecurity for children. I also donated money to feed a family over the Thanksgiving holiday. I have realized over the years that family and relationships are the most important thing in this world that affects happiness and as I am blessed to have a good job, I would like to help others where and when I can.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The 48 Laws of Power – it is a very insightful book on how to influence people and get them to buy into your ideas and/or agendas.

What is your favorite quote?

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Key Learnings:

  • Be driven and organized
  • You don’t have to be the loudest to make an impact
  • Don’t be afraid of admitting when you don’t know
  • Find work that fulfills you