“You Have More Control Over Your Career Than You Think” 5 Leadership Lessons With Andrew Glincher, of Nixon Peabody
“While happiness is a choice, each of us is unhappy at some point with what we are doing or who we are working with. Most of these challenges are temporary and not permanent ones. No job or career is perfect, but you can learn something from every experience. Try to look at the situation constructively and determine if what you’re going through today will matter five years from now. There are opportunities to reflect and the key is to evaluate what’s bothering you today, and figure out how to turn it into a positive learning experience. If it’s something that won’t matter to you in five years, forget about it and move on.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Glincher, CEO and managing partner of Nixon Peabody LLP, an American Lawyer 100- ranked firm. While lawyers have long viewed the world based on precedent, he is focused on building the law firm of the future. His vision is to inspire and nurture a culture of entrepreneurship, collaboration, innovation and lifelong learning and development for his colleagues.
What is your “backstory”?
Many people assume I am in my position today because I had a privileged childhood. And yes, I have had a privileged life, but my definition of privilege may differ from others. While we didn’t have many material things growing up, I felt privileged to be surrounded and supported by a loving family and friends.
I grew up in the working class city of Brockton, Massachusetts. My parents worked hard to provide for our family. My father drove a cab in Boston for twenty years and he owned a sub shop. My mother worked at a local car dealership. Even with two working parents, we often struggled to pay for necessities and extraordinary medical bills.
I was entrepreneurial at a young age. I first learned the basics of running a business in high school when I applied to open up a concession stand at the local community center. Opening Andy’s Snack Bar taught me skills that I have carried throughout my career, like the importance of a strong work ethic, why relationships matter, helping others and going the extra mile to make a customer happy.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your law career?
I have chronic back pain, which I, like many others, deal with on a daily basis. A client and I were once in a pretty intense negotiation, but we had achieved what we had set out to accomplish.
We had been seated for a while and the meeting was close to concluding. My back was killing me, so I got up to stretch and walk around the room, which I often do. Whereupon, the other party thought I was walking out and offered our client an extra million dollars over what our client expected.
Another time, when I was a young associate, a partner took me to meet a client, Boston Celtics legend Red Auerbach, for a business meeting and lunch in his office. It was amazing. He was a great guy. We had a wonderful discussion about basketball and life. Red spent time with me after the meeting, showed me his mementos and gave me a tour of Boston Garden and a Celtics championship jersey. It was a blast.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
We just signed a lease for new office space in Boston as we continue our focus on building the law firm of the future. We are thinking differently about how we use our space. We were among the first law firms (if not the first) to move into single-sized offices (no more corner offices) when we moved offices in Washington, DC, in 2015. It’s a trend we continued in our new Los Angeles and New York City office spaces and next in Boston.
As our physical offices change, our culture must keep up with the changing times. I like to bring different voices into the mix when a decision has to be made. To have the best teams, we welcome different opinions and invite new perspectives from a diverse array of people. This inclusive approach helps provide clients with the best value.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
I would have to say our nation’s 16th president. Abraham Lincoln faced overwhelming and life- altering challenges to accomplish so much. He was honest, caring, selfless and true to his values.
Call it a coincidence, but I was born on Lincoln’s birthday, collected Lincoln pennies, my home is on Lincoln Road, my office is at the intersection of Lincoln and Summer streets and I am told I can be honest to a fault.
What advice would you give to someone considering a career in law?
When I was pursuing my law degree, I was focused on two things — one, utilizing a knowledge base that I knew would serve me well for a career in business. And two, with a license to practice, I would be financially independent and able to provide for my family.
When I joined Nixon Peabody’s predecessor firm, it had 60 attorneys at the time. I never saw myself having a career at a large law firm. I loved business and had a business background. I knew having a solid understanding of the legal industry would be beneficial to a future role in business or in starting my own business.
Who would have guessed that 30 years later, I would have the privilege of serving as CEO and managing partner of Nixon Peabody for the past eight years? I simply love what I do, the clients we serve and the people I work with. I love to solve problems and to help people.
My advice is simple: “Play to your strengths and love what you do.” There’s a correlation between what people do well and what they like to do. Being passionate about what you do and who you do it with is important. Also, a legal education is useful in so many ways. It provides endless opportunities to find your passion.
If you had the ability to make three reforms in our judicial/legal system, which three would you start with? Why?
Some of our laws and our legal system need to change to reflect and be applied to today’s world. They include:
(1) change gun laws to eliminate assault weapons and have more extensive background checks.
(2) a greater understanding that mental illness is like any other illness and, along with personal drug use, needs greater focus and treatment, not incarceration. Society needs more tools like diversion programs as an alternative to locking people up.
(3) we need a different means of resolving divorce, child custody and landlord-tenant cases. We have to figure out alternative ways to help people resolve their differences. The profession has a real opportunity to step up here and decide what this looks like.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
There’s an old Hebrew saying, tikkun olam. “Repair the world.” It’s a concept defined by acts of kindness that are done to perfect, or heal the world. Tikkun olam embodies the spirit of philanthropy, which hits home for me.
Giving back to the community is something my parents and grandparents instilled in me at an early age. They told me if you can’t give treasure, give your time.
Throughout my career, I have been involved in giving time (pro bono and otherwise) and treasure to many organizations. I spent 30 years volunteering with Hebrew Senior Life, a housing, health care and research organization for the elderly. I even served as chairman. And I taught real estate and business at Boston College for more than 20 years.
My community service helped me develop great leadership skills and confidence early on in my career.
I know this is not an easy job. What drives you?
In the professional services industry, you need to know not only your clients well, but truly understand their business. You can apply this concept to any industry you work in. And this translates into also knowing and understanding your own business as much as you possibly can.
While you can be successful mastering a skill, as many have proven, you can become invaluable if you learn how to apply your knowledge effectively to help your clients, prospects or anyone you interact with.
I am also driven by people. I like to seek out the best in them — what they do well — and focus on their strengths and not their weaknesses. I want to help them be the best they can be. That leads me to my next point. You have to take care of yourself. During a recent visit to our San Francisco office, the attorneys and I started off the day with yoga. I have been practicing it for years, and it has been a life-saver when the stress got high. Swimming and walking are other activities I enjoy.
Well-being is all about maintaining the right kind of balance. When you are balanced, you have greater perspective and better judgment. There is a challenge, however. I have found the more passionate you are about your work, the harder it is to achieve and maintain balance.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1) Be open to change: Change is good. It can re-energize your career. Being open to new experiences and doing things in a different way provides a more exciting, engaging and energizing work environment. Embrace the opportunities that come with change.
2) Be careful what you wish for: The things we wish so hard for sometimes come true. Make sure they are really right for you. Make sure you set your goals.
3) You have more control over your career than you think: While happiness is a choice, each of us is unhappy at some point with what we are doing or who we are working with. Most of these challenges are temporary and not permanent ones. No job or career is perfect, but you can learn something from every experience. Try to look at the situation constructively and determine if what you’re going through today will matter five years from now. There are opportunities to reflect and the key is to evaluate what’s bothering you today, and figure out how to turn it into a positive learning experience. If it’s something that won’t matter to you in five years, forget about it and move on.
4) Ask for meaningful feedback: This is a learned skill, and I’ll admit, it took me many years to improve. Constructive feedback helps us become better versions of ourselves. Those who take the time to mentor and provide constructive feedback are usually doing so to help you be a better teammate and colleague. You may not agree with the message, but you need to be aware of how others perceive you, in case you desire to change perceptions. Whether or not I agree, I always learn from others.
5) Spend your time where you can make a difference and where it will have an impact: At the end of each day, write down what you’ve done and how much time you’ve spent. I’ve done
this nearly every day of my career and it helps me take a look at how I spend my time and determine whether a particular activity was a good use of my time.
Prioritize your time in areas where you can make incremental changes that will be beneficial to you, your family and your organization.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
If I had to pick one person, it would be Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway. He’s often called the “Oracle of Omaha,” but there’s nothing god-like or mysterious about him. He’s a very down to earth businessman who didn’t need fancy investment software programs. He is without pretense, lives modestly, has terrific values and trusts his gut.
Buffett once said that a factor behind his success was a lifelong habit of voracious reading. He would read 1,000 pages a day when he started his career, later paring that down to about 500 pages when he was in his late 80s. Like compound interest, knowledge builds up.
And so I would like to use what knowledge I have gained to better the lives of others, to lift them up and maybe even inspire them to pursue their dreams.