Women in Business ’13: Laura Alemzadeh
The general counsel at Kawasaki Rail Car
As a transportation industry leader, Kawasaki Rail Car, Inc., is one of those companies you probably come into contact with daily without realizing it. Over the past 30 years, it has produced more than 4,000 rail cars, most of which are in the New York Metro area. Laura Alemzadeh, general counsel at the Yonkers-based company, is tasked with overseeing the contracts for the manufacturing, delivery, and warranty of those cars—contracts that can be worth millions of dollars for entities as large as Metro-North. “We take a contract on to build a rail car and from the initial stages of building to when we are in the midst of production to the end of it, there are contract implications,” she says.
And while being a high-ranking executive in a multimillion-dollar company is a success in itself, being the highest-ranking woman in a multimillion-dollar company in an industry in which women comprise only 13 percent is an even bigger one. But, says Alemzadeh, “I wouldn’t call those hurdles. I would call them opportunities to break barriers, to change the face of the industry.”
All that is impressive enough. But consider that Alemzadeh, after meeting with top management, actually helped create her current position, and she alone is the legal department for the company. “I’ve been doing this sort of one-man show for two-and-a-half years,” she says. “We are a big organization, but we are very lean.” As the right-hand person to the CEO, Alemzadeh dedicates most of her time facilitating the day-to-day aspects of the company (overseeing existing contracts, legal issues related to facilities, and more), tasks made easier by her tenure as a litigator in New York City (“That taught me how to think quick on my feet”) and as the VP of a financial-services company (“I got to see how legal and business mixed”). In this function, Alemzadeh played a major role in the three-year process of negotiating and finalizing the purchase of the company’s Yonkers facility, a multimillion-dollar deal finalized at the end of August. “That’s one of the highlights of my career,” she says.
The rest of her time is spent securing new contracts for the company. That aspect of her job led to what Alemzadeh considers the company’s crowning achievement—a contract to produce 500 rail cars for Washington, DC. “We’ve made rail cars in the Northeast area, but being able to provide for the nation’s capital was a proud moment.”