Phyllis Staub Wallitt ’97 is senior vice president (SVP) of legal at Booking Holdings, Inc., the parent company to online travel companies booking.com, Priceline, KAYAK, Open Table, Agoda, and rentalcars.com. Ms. Wallitt has been with the company since 2008 in various legal roles. Since 2020, Ms. Wallitt has overseen and coordinated group-wide legal strategy, litigation, enterprise-wide commercial relationships and legal operations, and supported the Booking Holdings senior leadership in her SVP role. From 2014 through 2020, Ms. Wallitt was the SVP and general counsel of the Priceline brand. At Priceline, Ms. Wallitt also served two stints as interim head of People & Culture. Prior to joining Booking Holdings, Ms. Wallitt was a litigation associate at the law firms Patterson Belknap and Sullivan & Cromwell in New York, and a law clerk in the federal district court in Manhattan. She is a 1997 graduate of Cornell University’s College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) and a 2000 graduate of Penn Law School. Ms. Wallitt met her husband Dan, also a Cornellian, during a semester at the Cornell in Washington program. Phyllis and Dan live in Westport, CT with their two children Evan (16) and Brooke (13), and their dog Remy.
What drew you to the legal profession?
As a kid, I always liked courtroom drama shows on TV, and I enjoyed debating issues with friends and family. As unrealistic as those TV legal dramas are, they began my interest in the legal profession. I was a government major at Cornell and participated in the Cornell in Washington program. Both of these experiences opened my eyes to the many different ways lawyers could have an impact.
What most excites you about your work?
I have always found legal work to be thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating as new issues always come up and few things are black and white. I enjoy the practical aspects of being an in-house lawyer at a public company because my job is to manage legal risk and educate and advise our business colleagues about the law in the context of our business initiatives and objectives. It is fun to work at a fast-paced tech company in an exciting sector like travel; our motto is “Helping People Experience the World.” You get to respond every day to questions that come up and think about the legal risks and ramifications of decisions, and I have been lucky to be a generalist who gets involved with a variety of legal issues. I also can participate in projects without just my legal hat on. For example, I ran human resources at Priceline for two brief periods several years ago, and that was very different and exciting! I continue to learn new things all the time in my job. I am incredibly fortunate to work in a place that values ethics and doing things the right way. And our company is very global, so I sit in Connecticut and use Zoom every day with people in Amsterdam, London, Bangkok, and other places around the world. Those connections with colleagues have been invaluable to me.
In your career, how have you found mentors and made connections along the way?
I have been able to naturally find mentors along the way by working hard and being enthusiastic about what others are doing. As your career advances, you realized that mentors need not be people more senior or farther along in their career than you. You can also learn a tremendous amount from peers, colleagues, and people in other industries. There are many great organizations for lawyers to meet other lawyers, both in person and online through networking groups. I have also been involved with numerous organizations supporting women executives, both in the legal profession and more broadly.
Do you have any advice for Cornellians starting out in the legal field?
The legal profession can sometimes feel daunting with its reputation for long hours, lack of control over your schedule, and competitiveness. But if you seek out legal work that interests you and that you find exciting and challenging, you will figure out how to balance work and your personal life because you will want to do the work, and it will fulfill you and energize you. When you are just starting out, you should dive into as many interesting assignments as you can handle and embrace working hard. Legal services clinics in law school and pro bono work in law firms are great ways to get hands-on experience early in your career, in addition to helping the less fortunate. A mentor of mine once told me that I had to figure out how important work was in my life versus other things, and fortunately, I believe I have found that balance. I have worked hard and sacrificed personal time along the way, but I was able to raise two children, have an exciting and fulfilling legal career, and still have time for family, friends, and personal interests. There are so many varied and diverse roles for lawyers in our society, so there is no one right path.
What role has the Cornell network played in your career?
When I was a student, I had the opportunity to meet with older alumnae in New York City to hear about their careers and how they balanced work, family, and other commitments in their life. This had a lasting impression on me as I saw that other women had made the balance possible for themselves, so I could do it too! When I went to the Cornell in Washington program, I interned at the Department of Justice. The program was an amazing experience. There was a vast network of intern opportunities through the program, and I learned a lot by watching what my peers were doing in many different settings. I then spent part of a few summers in DC before settling in New York after law school. My law school had many Cornellians, and ever since I have always found Cornellians in all my endeavors. It is a common bond, and I do think it helped me land a few of my jobs. In my town, Westport, CT, I know many Cornellians, and I participate in the Cornell Club of Fairfield County as Treasurer. I have also been an alumni ambassador for prospective students through Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network (CAAAN) for many years, which is so much fun!