Its been a little more than 18 years since Audrey Boone Tillman was hired as an attorney in Aflacs legal department.
On Monday, the Atlanta native and longtime company executive succeeded Joey Loudermilk, her first boss and the man who hired her nearly two decades ago.
Tillman, who turned 50 a couple of weeks ago, immediately takes the helm of Aflacs legal department, serving as executive vice president and general counsel.
Its just a tremendous honor. Im humbled by it, said Tillman after Aflacs annual shareholder meeting at the Columbus Museum, where Aflac Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dan Amos made the big announcement.
I know that Ive got a steep learning curve, she said. Ive been outside of this (legal) venue for awhile, but I always try to bring excellence to what I do and work really hard and work in a way thats pleasing to God and to my family and to the people that have invested so heavily in me.
Loudermilk, who has been with the company since 1983, announced his retirement in February. He plans to leave the company at the end of this year, remaining as a senior adviser until then, finishing up several key projects, the company said.
In March, Loudermilk was appointed by a Superior Court panel to the position of juvenile court judge in the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, which is based in Columbus. He will serve the counties of Chattahoochee, Harris, Marion, Talbot, and Taylor.
Tillman rises from her position of executive vice president of Corporate Services, her job since 2008. She has held various positions with the firm, including director of human resources, since arriving at the supplemental health and life insurer in January 1996.
I knew for a number of years that I was on the succession chart to succeed Joey, said Tillman, who was surprised by his sudden departure. I never thought Joey would leave until Dan left, because they have worked so closely together. Their offices are right across the hall, and hes such a partner for Dan.
But she now takes charge of a staff of about 50, tasked with overseeing the legal affairs of a Fortune 500 company that racked up a profit of $3.1 billion on total revenue of $23.9 billion in 2013. It sells voluntary supplemental health and life insurance policies in the U.S. and Japan.
Tillman will serve as a legal adviser to Amos, his senior executive team, and the companys board of directors. It will include regulatory and compliance matters in a heavily regulated world.
Amos, in a statement issued by the company, called Tillman a respected, trusted and valued member of the Aflac family, and said she has consistently demonstrated fantastic leadership skills and her personal standards of ethics are beyond reproach.
After the shareholder meeting, he said she was absolutely a natural for the general counsel job and recalled her reluctance to leave the legal department for Corporate Services unless she had a legitimate chance to be general counsel. He told her she would have the opportunity if she did well on the business side of the company, and that has happened.
Amos acknolwedged its a major step for Tillman, although she should be able to ease into the job because of Loudermilks steady hand through the years. He said the company is relatively free of litigation as she takes charge.
But you never know whats around the corner with legal. Youre always looking at that, Amos said. But I cant think of anybody I would rather protect me than her. She is articulate and smart and a trusted person to me. She is in my smallest inner circle.
For Tillman, who attended public schools through high school in Atlanta, the coming weeks and months will be a time for adjustment. When she left the legal department for the firms business operation, a mentor told her the biggest obstacle she faced was thinking too much like a lawyer, and that she needed to stop doing that.
I worked very hard and purposefully not to be a lawyer in my business interactions, she said. Now Im going to have to retrain myself to be that lawyer again, and to approach things with that type of mindset. So everything comes full circle.
On Monday, however, it was all about digesting the news involving her career, with her husband, children and proud mother, Barbara Boone of Atlanta, in the audience at the Columbus Museum.
I know my dad, if he were alive and here, he would probably be standing up cheering, she said with a smile.
Audrey Boone Tillman holds a bachelor of arts degree in political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She earned her Juris doctor degree from the University Of Georgia School Of Law.
Tillman is a member of the State Bar of Georgia, the North Carolina State Bar, the Bar of the District of Columbia, and is a past chair of the corporate law section of the National Bar Association.
She also has served as a director-at-large for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and on Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdues Workforce Development Task Force, part of the Commission for a New Georgia.
In 2013, she was selected by The Network Journal as one of their 25 Influential Black Women in Business. Named one of the Top 100 Blacks in Corporate America by Black Professionals magazine for two consecutive years, Tillman has also received the Office Depot Visionary Award, which recognizes dedication, leadership ability and commitment to achieving business success, shaping the direction of the community and helping to improve the lives of women.
* Bio source: Aflac