November 01, 2018

Managing to Succeed: Leveraging a Leadership Transition

Transitioning to new and diverse leadership to grow while maintaining an industry-focused firm outlook.

Vito A. Gagliardi Jr.

Over 18 months ago, I had the humbling experience of being elected unanimously as the managing principal of Porzio, Bromberg & Newman after spending two decades at the firm as a litigator. My predecessor had held the role for 20 years, so this was a novel experience for many of us. As all who have served in such roles are aware, being granted the highest level of trust and inheriting responsibility for an institution that dates to 1962 is an honor.

Planning

Transitioning to a leadership role for an organization of this size required tremendous thought and input from all areas of the firm. Porzio is a full-service, regional law firm with more than 90 lawyers and six offices throughout New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. Porzio is also the parent company to three wholly owned subsidiary companies: Porzio Life Sciences, Porzio Governmental Affairs and Porzio Compliance Services.

This transition in leadership was part of the firm’s strategic plan and was executed over a three-year period. To ensure a mindful process, the firm engaged an external consultant who collaborated with the principals to evaluate the current needs of the firm. This was a critical step in the process since the firm had grown from two offices in 1997 to six offices at the start of this transition process, so the needs had evolved significantly over the years. Through our efforts we gathered external and internal feedback to ensure that we were working collectively to strengthen our capabilities to serve our clients. Gathering this input helped me to identify three initial priorities: (1) acquiring additional talent, (2) expanding into emerging industries and (3) developing greater diversity in hiring to strengthen our culture.

Execution

With the priorities identified, we then set out to execute our plans. This process brought to light an area of opportunity for Porzio, which was to strengthen its internal management structure. Given the growth of the firm, it was no longer logical or feasible for one person to govern without greater delegation. We took this opportunity to create what is now the firm’s management committee to assist in making and carrying out firm decisions. Involving others, and delegating certain responsibilities, also permits the cultivation of a new generation of leaders.

To advance our priorities, the firm began aggressively recruiting new talent. We made strategic hiring decisions in support of growing our industry focus and increasing internal capabilities. We leveraged relationships with clients, referral sources and industry contacts to hire more than 50 new employees, including three principals. We strategically targeted lawyers with backgrounds in industries where we had identified synergies and opportunities for growth among our current clients. We also recognized the ability to succeed called for internal alignment. After gathering internal feedback, the firm restructured its administrative departments and created a C-level leadership team consisting of a chief administrative officer, a chief financial officer and a chief marketing officer. Two of these roles were filled through internal promotions and the other through the recruitment of an experienced chief marketing officer.

An Industry Focus

Acquiring additional talent helped us to realize our goal of expanding into emerging industries. Porzio has taken an industry focus to serve its clients’ needs for decades, as is evident by the success of its first subsidiary, Porzio Life Sciences. To expand its ability to drive value to clients by leveraging industry experience across practices and services, the firm recently turned its attention to three emerging industries: cannabis, data privacy/cybersecurity and gaming/e-sports.

These industries were identified as opportunities by looking where evolving industries intersected with our areas of core competencies. Since the firm and our subsidiaries have a long history of working with clients in highly regulated industries like life sciences, nutraceuticals/supplements, education and many others, this gave us an opportunity to truly drive value to clients as the infrastructure was in place to handle complex regulations that can change from state to state.

A New Kind of Team

Through the process of identifying priority industries, we found it very important to look for new and innovative ways to help our clients in these and other industries. Consequently we took an unlikely approach for a law firm and hired industry professionals, not necessarily attorneys—for example, a school safety team. Having the privilege of serving clients in the education industry for decades fostered these relationships, and because of our ability to work with leaders in the education community, we recognized our clients were looking for innovative ways to keep schools safe in both cyber and physical spaces. The firm’s team of legal professionals with specific education industry experience took note of this gap and hired a former special agent in charge of the Newark office of the U.S. Secret Service. He is now working with us to assist in mitigating, and hopefully reducing, the threat of school safety-related events.

Any firm leader who has worked to develop new industries, practices and services understands there is a balancing act when we look to refocus our efforts. While we continue to invest in the foundational practice areas long established in the firm, we also have to take a hard look and recognize not every area of the firm can be identified as a priority. In some instances we have to make hard choices to ensure resources will be aligned with the stated priorities. This balancing act can create unique challenges during a leadership transition. Leaders who commit to consistent, clear communication of goals and priorities throughout the organization will be able to break down the negative perception of change and successfully illustrate the benefits, to the firm and individuals, of focusing on the identified priorities.

Throughout this process Porzio has maintained diversity, which is a key area of focus and one of its core values. In addition to incorporating diversity in the hiring efforts, the firm also took the leadership transition as an opportunity to reinvigorate two diversity-related networks within the firm for the benefit of its employees. We have seen direct results from these efforts and are proud to report that women make up 40 percent of our management committee and 100 percent of our C-level executive team.

Facing Up to Dissimilar Challenges

Despite best efforts, no leader can ever truly be prepared for all of the challenges that come with being in the leader’s chair. We can only strive to be the best leaders and stewards of our organizations and help our people get through the most difficult times. Earlier this year a member of the Porzio family tragically lost her life in an incidence of domestic violence. No process or leadership training can ever prepare you for how to react at that moment or how to guide your team through a senseless tragedy. In this instance I was moved by the extraordinary compassion our staff showed to one another. In their grief our people focused on the needs of each other and the victim’s family. This responsiveness made me proud to see the people who work here are not just part of a business entity but members of a community who care for one another. As the firm looks to the future, I want the way we responded in that dark hour to be remembered for the compassion we showed for each other rather than the sadness we shared.

At the forefront of all we do is client service. The firm leveraged its leadership transition into an opportunity to reframe and refocus its efforts on clients, people and progress. Despite the fact that our leadership transition is very much complete, we look for opportunities to leverage our core strengths to help our clients grow and achieve their goals. Our profession is one in which people and businesses turn to us with complicated scenarios and ask, What do you think we should do? Our focus remains giving prompt and strategic answers to that crucial question every day.

Vito A. Gagliardi Jr.

Vito A. Gagliardi Jr. is managing principal of Porzio, Bromberg & Newman and president and CEO of the firm’s subsidiaries, Porzio Life Sciences, Porzio Governmental Affairs and Porzio Compliance Services. An experienced employment lawyer and litigator, he also serves as co-chair of the firm’s litigation practice and leads the education and employment team that represents corporations, universities and school boards, and other public and private organizations, through complex challenges. Email him.

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