Spring/Summer 2018

Benedicte Bayi-Mathijsen, ’85: Drawn to the World

By Lori Atherton

Bayi-Mathijsen, ’85
Benedicte Bayi-Mathijsen, ’85

Benedicte Bayi-Mathijsen is “drawn to the world.” Born and raised in Brussels and college-educated in the United States, Bayi-Mathijsen, ’85, is a multinational lawyer whose career has included several moves across the Atlantic. She credits her American mother and her Dutch father with instilling a cosmopolitan outlook.

“My parents definitely inspired me to experience the world,” says Bayi-Mathijsen, who has been director of privacy counsel at PayPal in San Francisco for more than a year. She previously spent 22 years in Paris as the vice president and assistant general counsel at Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT).

Fluent in English and French, Bayi-Mathijsen attended the prestigious European School of Brussels. When it came time to enroll in college, she says there was no question that she would move to the States. Bayi-Mathijsen attended Vassar College and Columbia University, where she received a bachelor’s degree in urban studies and a master’s degree in urban planning, respectively. She worked in Greece and Thailand before enrolling in law school to gain additional skills that would “help me become a more effective urban planner.”

Her lawyer-father, Pierre Mathijsen, was a research scholar at the Law School in 1960, which brought the family to Ann Arbor when Bayi-Mathijsen was in kindergarten. But she chose Michigan Law for other reasons: She wanted to attend law school in a smaller city in the Midwest, and she wanted to be closer to her mother’s home state of Minnesota.

“I discovered a completely different world at Michigan, and it just took me in a whole new direction,” Bayi-Mathijsen says. She found its “international dimension” to her liking and joined the International Law Society and the Michigan Journal of International Law. Among those she became lifelong friends with are the late Professor Eric Stein, a pioneer in the study of European law, and his wife, Virginia; Mathias Reimann, LLM ’83, the Hessel E. Yntema Professor of Law at Michigan Law; and Neeru Chadha, ’85, the first Indian woman to be elected a judge on the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

A Parisian at heart, Bayi-Mathijsen worked as an associate at a law firm in New York after graduation before fulfilling her dream of living in France’s capital. The French business Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits was looking for an American lawyer based in Paris, and Bayi-Mathijsen got the job. “One of the first things I worked on was the merger between Wagons-Lits Travel and the Carlson Travel Network, which was very exciting,” Bayi-Mathijsen says.

She intended to stay in Paris for only a few years before returning to the New York region, but Bayi-Mathijsen enjoyed the complexity of her work, and her tenure at CWT turned into decades. “What kept me interested was that CWT felt like four or five different companies as the years went by because it changed and reinvented itself,” she says. “When I joined, it was a general travel agency, and then it rapidly became specialized in business travel, servicing corporations and their employees when they traveled around the world.”

Bayi-Mathijsen, too, traveled extensively as Carlson Wagonlit expanded to the Asia Pacific region, other parts of Europe, and Latin America. “I must have worked on joint ventures or acquisitions in 20 different countries,” she says. In the late 1990s, she also began working on the emerging area of law known as data privacy and data protection. “I felt that CWT was becoming a tech company in disguise because we were offering tools to make the travel experience more efficient, both internally and for our clients,” Bayi-Mathijsen says. “A lot of information was collected through these products, and I ran cross-functional teams on data protection and security.”

That experience helped Bayi-Mathijsen transition to her current job at PayPal, which operates a worldwide online payment system and continuously develops new products and services, she says. “I work closely with the business to help it achieve its goals, even though data protection laws are still evolving and there aren’t always clear answers. Michigan really prepared me for thinking through topics I never had to think about before, and that’s really what my job is like every day.”

Michigan also prepared Bayi-Mathijsen for her move back to the States, something she hadn’t considered until a life change—the death of her husband—prompted her to explore other career options. Making the move was easier thanks to help from her Law School connections.

“I started contacting friends and former colleagues from New York to get ideas about what to do next, which is something I hadn’t done before,” she says. “It was a wonderful experience reaching out to people, who were willing to take 20 minutes here or there to offer advice. I’m very lucky that I could make this move, especially since it brought me closer to my daughter [a student at the University of California, San Diego, who wants to study transitional justice]. And it’s all thanks to my Michigan Law degree.”