Andrew used to be the kind of person that didn’t speak unless spoken to, never seeking to be the center of attention. That all changed in High School when he decided to run for class secretary and won, which opened up other opportunities like getting to meet President Jimmy Carter when he visited the school. From that moment, he was a people person.
This is the first of a series of live interviews we’re recording with corporate leaders called Scaling Mentorship where we dive into how leaders of large and successful organizations choose to run their companies, and the steps they took in their careers to get to where they are.
Our interview with Andrew starts with his formative years of working for his father’s sandwich shop, and how this was his first experience with leadership. We then dive into how he climbed the ladder at Nixon Peabody as it grew from 100 people to 1,500, and $530 Million in revenue. We get actionable advice on how a network can turn into business opportunities, and why the key to building trust with someone is repeat interactions over a long period of time.
Andrew is unlike most lawyers, and his propensity to go against the grain is what helped him create a different type of organization – one that focuses on developing people based on their unique abilities.
4:01 Sergei I’m wondering when you were growing up did you ever see yourself as somebody who would become a lawyer and then eventually run a law firm? Is that something that ever crossed your mind?
4:09 Andrew I knew I wanted to go to law school to combine it with business school. I didn’t envision myself at a large law firm.
4:44 Sergei Tell us a little bit of your childhood, what was actually going on?
5:03 Andrew Despite of having a very humble economic beginning we were always encourage to go to school and to graduate from school. I knew from the beginning that I will go to college, I just never knew what to study.
5:54 Vadim Aside from the fact that you graduate with a business degree, were there entrepreneurs in your family? Any other sort of role models?
6:05 Andrew My dad drove a cab for 20 years then he ended up having a sub shop and then I ended up working there. Eventually in High School I competed on a summer recreation concession stand to run it and grew it to x dollars. People who are double or triple my age would think like ‘what do you know at your age?’
7:15 Sergei So can you tell us a bit about where you got that confidence? [Because it’s not natural for everyone]
7:32 Andrew That’s a good question. You get confidence from your family sometimes… and if it’s not from your family, you certainly find it with your friends and other people you deal with in your life.
7:53 Vadim So what was your trajectory then right after school?
8:06 Andrew I got my undergraduate degree in finance and marketing. And I went to go to work in LA. The opportunity was interesting because I got to interact with top level executives.
9:45 Sergei Do you feel like you had more opportunities because of that? What was the ultimate benefit of working close with VPs?
10:01 Andrew This was a really boring job. And you need experiences that aren’t that great at least to rule out what you want to do and don’t want to do. To me, having financial independence and the ability to set up your own business was partly what drove me to law besides of keen interest.
11:40 I’ve also been fortunate with very close friends that do different things and advises a lot of different things.
12:33 Sergei How do you find advisers? How do you attract people to mentor and advise you?
12:46 Andrew Persistence, being a pain in the ass. I just ask people questions and I’ve always been amazed at how people are always willing to take the time. I believe I can learn something from everyone I’ve dealt with. I was an introvert in High School but people are willing to talk to you. I think people are flattered that you ask them questions. That’s when I learn things.
17:26 Vadim Is there a moment for you where you thought you broke out of your shell or did you kind of develop over time?
17:30 Andrew There’s definitely a moment. In school I had a friend running for president, friend running for vice president so I ran for secretary. I had to get up and give a talk in front of everybody.
18:38 Sergei In a pre-interview you told us that a friend of yours actually poached you to join Peabody & Brown in 1987 and then by 1995, 8 years later you were elected equity partner. Tell us about why you think you were one of the people that was able to get to that position in a period of 8 years. Were you bringing in a lots of deals? Not everybody gets into that position so, what’s the story on how you got elected?
19:10 Andrew I had business as an associate. At that time I’m building internal and external networks. I got a lot of business through a lot of volunteer work. It’s like a team sport, you have to be out there with a great team.
22:20 Sergei It’s not natural for people to turn relationships built through networks into business opportunities. How were you able to change the relationship into a business one?
22:35 Andrew Initially I won’t just ask somebody for their business. I wouldn’t want people to think that I want to be close to them because I want them to be a client. I would get to know people better and will speak passionately about what I did so I get to know what they did and their business. When you learn what other people do it presents an opportunity to refer business to them. They get a lot of value and you build that trust very quickly.
23:00 Vadim Figure out to add value before you ask something in return.
24:00 Andrew I think that’s right. You can’t be afraid of failure, you have to keep going, you have to keep trying. If you’re trying to win a proposal and it wont work and someone else will get it – it doesn’t mean they’re not gonna give you a call in a year. You need multiple points of exposure.
29:00 Vadim I got to meet RZA of the Wu Tang Clan last week at a Showtime event for the Emmys, and it was great to see that he was out there networking after the screening of his new show. Despite how successful he is, he knows the value of meeting people, building connections and putting in the hard work.
As you were moving up into the ranks, when was the first time you got the opportunity to lead other people and how did that feel? How did you develop the skills?
29:33 Andrew The first opportunity was in high school then in college. I ran for Executive committee in our firm and I ran against a couple of people who were doing it for a very long time, and that was my first opportunity.
32:40 Sergei How can you be tactfully persistent? How do you push people but in a way that you don’t actually force them to alienate you instead actually making them an ally, how do you do that?
33:00 Andrew You need to respect everybody. You can’t tell lawyers what to do. I don’t tell people what to do. I try and give other people options and I hope that the options that I’m giving would resonate with them.
32:10 Vadim So today Nixon Peabody is a 1,500 person firm and a 500 million dollar company. Can you talk about the rest of the story there because ‘95 you became a partner relatively soon after that you became the head of the whole place. So talk to us about that story, how did that happen?
35:33 Andrew Back in the ‘95 I was just an equity partner. Because Boston is our biggest office we have 3 representatives and i saw that there’s too many people in the room. So I wanted the committee to be reduced so I said that I’m stepping off. Then the co-managing partners came to me and asked me if I could run Boston. And I said sure. A few years after that, I was asked to run the entire operation.
38:50 Vadim I’m curious because the legal profession is interesting. It’s relatively saturated, but the firm has been growing, and you guys seems to be having continuous success. What do you think is different about what you do? Versus maybe your competition or generally how you go about business?
39:26 Andrew I think it’s about the culture. We have been told this when we surveyed our industry leaders, and clients – including people who aren’t clients. We asked them about their perception of Nixon Peabody. We kept getting ‘really nice people’ and ‘great at what they do’. We play off that and make it our brand.
44:00 Sergei I think it’s so important what you say that you should let people experiment and know that you’re going have their back even when they failed. And I really appreciate that you do that with your firm.