Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sol Watson Joins ReServe Board of Directors

He is new to the ReServe Board of Directors, taking his seat in June to provide advice, counsel and leadership to the organization whose purpose is, he says, “To give older adults an opportunity to use their skills, talents and life experiences through work or service to benefit ourselves and the community.”

He is the fourth generation of Solomon B.'s (last name Watson), and a practiced leader and lawyer in Boston and New York, even though ”my natural proclivity is one of introversion.” That tendency, he says, elicits a style to lead by influence and persuasion as much as to lead by authority. ”I try to get the same good results as any good manager or leader--and can be tough when necessary.” So he could have been found in the trenches with his troops whether leading a platoon of MPs in the Mekong Delta as a young Army lieutenant or seasoning his troop of lawyers as Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer of The New York Times Company.

Solomon B. Watson IV (known as Sol) has a law degree from Harvard, but when he left Woodstown NJ (Pop. about 2600 in the early 60s) for Howard University, he studied English and journalism. After graduation, his membership in the ROTC put him in upstate New York and in Vietnam and in the company of young lawyers serving their tours. Most notable was Capt. Stephen A. Swartz, a graduate of Boston University Law School. “He was smart, savvy, cordial, and very capable,” Watson said. Recalling a conversation about his future with the military, Watson says Swartz’ advice was to get out and consider law school. It came on top of a recent diagnosis of pseudofolliculitis barbae. The skin irritation caused by close shaves of curly facial hair may be remedied by letting the beard grow—a military no-no. Watson has had a beard since this diagnosis in 1968.

Watson went to Harvard Law and after graduation to the Boston law firm of Bingham, Dana & Gould. After returning from Vietnam Swartz joined the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and assisted Watson in becoming an intern there after his first year in law school. The two have retained their friendship. “In large measure, Steve Swartz is responsible for my being a lawyer and the beginning of my legal career,” Watson said.

While he was in Boston, Watson was a founder of the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association, a professional networking group ultimately recognized by more established lawyer organizations. Shortly after joining The Times’ legal department in 1974, he joined the advisory board of the Agent Orange Settlement Fund, helping families of children with deformities attributed to the herbicide use in Vietnam.

Watson worked his way to the top of Times’ legal department, leading a staff of a dozen or so lawyers, each immersed in one or more areas of law integral to operating the $3+ billion diversified media company. One of his prides is that long before he retired two years ago, “I had developed a very good legal staff, lead by an outstanding successor. When I left I was confident the company would be well served by the department and its new general counsel."

Watson says he thoroughly enjoyed his career at The Times, having worked with several generations of management and having seen many changes in the business and legal environments. He was once referred to by a colleague as the "prime minister" because of his counseling of employees at various levels of the company.

In retirement he continues to lend his acumen to several organizations, including the Executive Leadership Council, a group of more than 400 black executives who are within two ranks of the CEO. Watson mentors young lawyers and executives, whom he calls his “troops,” a legacy of his Army days as a platoon leader. Among other commitments he is an advisory board member of the Howard University Institute for Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Innovation; board member of the Hudson River Foundation, and, most recently, a board member of ReServe.

“My goal as a director,” he says, “is to help the board give the organization some strategic and other direction as it grows to be influential in the New York City area, and also as it grows as a national model for civic engagement. “ The groundwork for expansion was laid at ReServe’s Replication Conference in New York last May, which attracted nonprofits from across the country interested in the ReServe business model and, in Watson’s words “how it could help their organizations utilize older adults who are able and want an encore career.”

Watson lives on the Upper West Side with his wife, Brenda, retired Director of Human Resources at the Times. He says he’s a stay-at-home type of guy, and if there is one "issue" in their marriage, it’s that she likes to travel. The compromise is to take one big trip a year (this year to two islands of Hawaii.) Otherwise he’s content with saltwater fly-fishing off Martha's Vineyard and the Florida Keys. While he eats fish he generally returns his catch to the sea with no regret ("catch-and-release"). He says he has simple tastes and his palate tends toward what he calls "AFITS" (all food is the same).

His pro bono work fits nicely with retirement and what he calls the "Three F’s: Family, Friends and Folks of Similar Interests." He has twin daughters from an earlier marriage and three grandchildren: Trey, the 10-year-old son of Kira, a lawyer, and Tiara and Kayla, the twin daughters of Katitti, an elementary school teacher. He says, “I love spending time with the 28-month-old twins,” in part because they remind him of his daughters when they were toddlers.

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