Michael Waller, 1975 Auburn University graduate, was the feature of this week's CLA Thursday Speaker Series.
During his time spent at Auburn University, Waller went into his undergraduate studies with the hope of pursuing a career in the medical field. After shadowing a close friend at Mayo Clinic, his premed dreams came to a quick and nauseated close. By the time of his junior year, Waller had switched his major to psychology, and he graduated with the goal of attending law school.
“I left this institution without deep knowledge of a subject matter aligned with my strengths,” Waller said.
After several failed attempts at applying to law schools, Waller was able to come across a clerk job for the Texas legislature, which had seen Waller speak at a past Auburn organization event.
A year passed and Waller was finally accepted and went on to attend law school at the University of Houston. After graduating in 1979 and becoming editor-in-chief of his school's law review in his last year of studies, he deemed himself fully equipped and able to be separated from most of his graduating class upon searching for a larger career.
“Just by working hard at something I loved, writing and storytelling, by passionately pursuing an activity I loved I was able to establish some credentials that opened a few extra professional doors for me and strengthened a skillset that would benefit me down the road although in ways I did not imagine at the time,” Waller said.
Following his graduation, Waller would go on to work as a law clerk for a federal district judge in Houston.
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Waller said the experience was, “a special opportunity to observe how the wheels of the justice system turn, and to walk alongside [his] fellow judge and law clerk was humbling and enriching.”
In the meantime, Waller worked for several oil and energy companies. He would eventually be offered to serve as the general council for one of his own energy clients, where he was most responsible for all the legal and government affairs of a billion dollar Houston natural gas pipeline company.
Just under the age of 40, the company that Waller worked for had been sold and his job was taken with it.
“I scripted my own exit and returned to my law firm without a single client to my name and with four children all under the age of 12 at home," Waller said. "Yet I had reached the end of my runway with no lift under my wings. I saw the headline on my obituary: ‘Never lived up to his potential and died a pauper.' Gradually and one step at a time, my ship stabilized. I learned from author Trevor Noah, regret is the thing we should fear most. Failure is an answer."
After internalizing this life lesson, Waller would go on to work in Moscow, Russia, for four years, serving as a Western professional while representing an oil pipeline company to emplace an oil line from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea. The $2 billion project soon succeeded and is still one of the largest privately funded projects between Russia and the United States of America.
After his time in Russia, Waller went to Brussels, Belgium, where he would be named as the executive vice president and general counsel for the international food retailer Delhaize Group. Additionally, he served as the president of the company’s Indonesian subsidiary in Jakarta.
Since then, Waller has been serving as special counsel for a large law firm in Washington D.C., a council member at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and is a part of a Washington think tank chartered by the United States Congress. Waller also serves on the current CLA Research and Academic Board at Auburn.
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