Alum Solomon faced rejection on path to success as attorney, vice president

Bill Solomon – the retired group vice president and general counsel of Ally Financial – returned to campus Thursday, Jan. 19, to host a Leadership Slam and reflect on his career as an attorney.

Between speaking at two campus sessions about leadership traits, Solomon visited The Varsity News, where he had been a member of the staff as an undergrad.

His message throughout the day focused on the value of persistence and hard work. His own route to high-level success as an attorney was pocked with rejection, he noted.

Solomon earned his bachelor’s degree in political science in 1973 at the University of Detroit, before continuing his education at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and University of Notre Dame Law School in Indiana. He spent his second of three years in law school studying in London through Notre Dame’s foreign studies program.

After graduating, Solomon tried to get into several car companies but struggled early on. 

“I couldn’t get an interview at Ford or GM when I was getting out of school,” Solomon said. 

He and a friend from Notre Dame ended up eventually landing interviews for the same position within Ford, but Ford granted the other person the position.

Ford’s early rejection led Solomon to begin his career in the Michigan Court of Appeals as a clerk. For two years, he occupied the position before a recruiter from Ford Motor Credit Co. reconnected with Solomon and offered him a position.

At first Solomon was hesitant and declined the offer. After a second phone call with the recruiter, he decided to accept the offer of regional staff attorney. 

Solomon was happy at Ford Credit. He stayed for five years until offered a promotion to general counsel at Vixen Motor Company. He accepted.

“That job was a great experience,” Solomon said. 

Solomon worked for Vixen for three years when he received a call from the same recruiter who had hired him at Ford Credit eight years prior.

The recruiter had left Ford Credit for a job at GM, and was calling to offer Solomon yet another interview.

Solomon went but, once again, was not offered the job.

“Here I was, a successful lawyer for years, doing good work, this (recruiter) is vouching for me because I used to work for him at Ford Credit and I still didn’t get the job offer,” Solomon said.

A few months later, the same recruiter called Solomon for another interview, and this time he was offered the job with GM.

“I really agonized and debated if I wanted to take the offer because I loved private practice,” said Solomon. “ ‘Do I really want to go back to corporate law?’ I thought to myself.”

Solomon accepted the position of attorney and practice area manager, and was happy he did.

There were about 20 lawyers in GM’s credit law department, and Solomon pushed them to be the best they could be by holding them accountable for their work.

“You have to not be afraid to speak your mind,” Solomon said. “People will realize that you’re not messing around, and they will respect you. When you’re working hard, you become the hero.”

Solomon eventually became the leader of his department by taking on assignments that others avoided and by being clear about his motivation.

After a few years, he and his group were assigned to GMAC (Ally), which was owned by GM.

Solomon’s boss made him the general counsel of the department at Ally. Later, he became group vice president.

Though his work did not come easy and he was declined by several major companies, Solomon never let the rejection slow him down.

He has a message for Detroit Mercy students.

“I don’t know where you are in life, but don’t get discouraged if things don’t go your way,” he said. “I think ninety percent of good leadership is just to do your job, work hard. Don’t act like your job is just this one thing. When you’re done with your work at the end of the day or at the end of the week, it’s always good to stop by your boss’s office and ask, ‘Is there anything I can do to help you?’

“No matter how busy you are, no matter how stressed you are, do that,” Solomon said. “You will make a positive impression and prove that you’re a go-getter, and that will get you places. I always followed that advice.”