21 October 2022
This year marks 10 years since I founded my business, a business that began as one single independent law firm, before becoming what it is today; a group spanning two continents and six successful businesses. During that time, I’ve learnt a lot about what it takes to succeed in business; how to lead a team; how to communicate my vision; and drum motivation for my mission. Whilst all the while trying to stay true to my own core principles, even in times of constant flux and dramatic change.
So, on that reflective note, now felt the right time to celebrate the last 10 years and share some of that journey in the hope it might help other legal and business leaders along in achieving their ambitions. I’ve distilled my guidance into 10 Rules for Leaders Navigating Opportunity and Risk. Rules I believe have propelled me forward throughout my career as a leader, and as a person too…
A leading lawyer turned business leader: where did it begin?
But first, let’s rewind a moment to 2011. I’d been a lawyer for 10 years by then and as a good litigator, I’d progressed quickly through the independent law firm I was working in. I focussed on growth and built my team up from a turnover of £250k per annum to £7 million. And by the time I turned 28, I had acquired equity in the business. At the turn of my 32nd birthday, became Managing Partner of that Law Firm.
Life was good. As a proud Liverpudlian from a working-class background, my career was going from strength to strength. The fantastic money I was earning enabled my wife and me to buy a beautiful home, which we moved into with our then 6-month-old daughter.
Then it started to unravel. I was getting on a train to London ahead of a busy day of meetings when I suddenly collapsed. Rushed to a hospital, I received tests that diagnosed a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot of an artery in the lungs. Vividly I remember being told if the condition hadn’t been treated, the growth of the clot was ‘inconsistent with life’. That was my wake-up call.
Next would come the relationship breakdown with my business partner. Although not directly connected to my health condition, the working relationship had become toxic – and by the end of 2011, these two life-changing events had left me at a crossroads, knowing that I had to leave my firm.
I had two choices. The first would be to remain at the firm to negotiate a departure that allowed me to take the team I had built, along with our clients, and move them to my new business. I’d insist upon a severance deal which worked for me financially and allowed me to continue with my career.
The problem here was that I knew that my former business partner would prevent a smooth departure, causing stress for me and my family, as well as significant financial expense and subsequent fallouts with other people at the firm whom I respected.
The second option would be to resign and walk away. I was still quite ill at the time, and this would avoid expense and stress but would mean me starting again, leaving behind the team and clients I’d built over a decade.
Taking the plunge and leading from the front
Proud and passionate about what I’d achieved over those 10 years, there was no way I was turning my back on those accolades. And so ensued the most difficult 9 months of my life. Lawyers, accountants, mediation, and eventual litigation were all involved, all whilst trying to do my day job, recover from illness and be a part of family life.
Finally, in the Summer of 2012, my former partner and I reached a deal that was for the most part what I’d asked for. Within 6 weeks of signing that deal, I had set up my own law firm with my team and my clients. And I’ve never looked back.
A decade of global growth
The 16th of July 2022 was the official birthday of SGI Legal. Since then, that business has evolved into the Spirant Group, spanning the UK and Australia, with a portfolio of five other successful businesses. This year saw the tenth anniversary of that pivotal moment. I’ve reflected on all that I’ve learnt, how my leadership style has facilitated such exponential growth and how my experience might help others navigate the challenging world of business and law – or the interception between the two.
Clearly, risk has played an important role in my journey. But perhaps it’s my background in law that’s made me this way. I’d argue that if you’re not comfortable with taking risks, you haven’t found the right platform for them yet.
My approach is for those risks to be steadfastly calculated. Measuring up the pros and cons, applying strategic and analytical thinking to plan for all possible outcomes and always balancing the argument to understand the full picture. Combine that with a gutsy manner and a strong inclination to push the limits, and you’ll be somewhere close to how I lead a business – along the lines of reason and risk.
Lessons in leadership: how could they help you?
So, I wonder, as a high-performing business leader, where do you sit when it comes to maintaining order v taking risk? Do you air on the side of caution, keeping cash in the bank, hesitant when it comes to large-scale investment? Or are you risky on the side of reckless, keen to push for growth at whatever cost?
For me. The best approach to leadership, lies somewhere in the middle. Think of it as a leadership equilibrium.
With two decades of leadership behind me, I want to share my own take on what allows for this leadership equilibrium to be achieved. I can see how over the years there are steadfast principles that have followed me throughout my career, as well as new ones I’ve learnt out of mistakes or challenging situations.
Coinciding with my podcast From the Courtroom to the Boardroom that explores some of these themes, I’ll be releasing my 10 Rules for Leaders Navigating Opportunity and Risk – my most valuable leadership principles. Principles that have brought me much success over the years, both professionally and personally.
It’s my aim to not only guide you based on my own insight but help you to formulate your own steadfast principles that will take you up the rungs of the leadership ladder, to greatness.