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| 23 minutes read

CMO Series EP141 - Brad Vynalek & Jennifer Rupkey of Quarles & Brady on Harmonizing Firm Leadership and BD

Developing a joined-up approach to legal business development is essential for any firm. 

On this episode of the CMO Series, Brad Vynalek, Firm President and Executive Committee member, and Jennifer Rupkey, the Director of Business Development at Quarles & Brady LLP, join Ed Lovatt to shed light on the critical nexus between firm leadership and business development. 

Together, they illustrate the transformative impact of their collaborative approach, emphasizing its pivotal role in driving overall firm success.

Brad, Jen and Ed discuss:

  • The connection and the working dynamic between Brad, Jennifer and the BD function and how that differs from other firms
  • The moment in Brad’s career he realized the importance of this cross-function collaboration and connection. 
  • How this working dynamic enhances BD efforts and examples of success
  • How this approach has influenced the firm and its culture
  • Advice for BD professionals and firm leaders looking to work more harmoniously together 

Ed: Welcome to another episode of the CMO series podcast where we discuss all things marketing and business development in the professional services sector. Today, we are doing a deep dive into the fascinating and in this case, unique connection between the law firm president and the business development function.

I'm extremely thrilled to have two exceptional guests with us today. Brad and Jennifer, I've met you both a couple of times over the phone. Jennifer, I've met you and Brad at the MPF conference earlier this year. You both work at Quarles and Brady and I wanted to get you on today to discuss your harmonious dynamic within the business leading to sort of firm-wide success. And so thank you very much for joining me today. I wanted to start if possible,  I know a little bit about you both, but if you could both give me some little sort of insights into the background of each of your roles at the firm and how long you've been at Quarles and sort of maybe just tell us what your day to day is or what your week to week is Brad if you wanted to kick us off.

Brad:  Yeah, sure. That's great.  First of all, thank you so much for including us this opportunity. Jen and I and the firm are obviously passionate about BD and all things kind of marketing and client relationship. So we're thrilled to be able to be a part of this in terms of my role at the firm, I'm the president of the firm and that largely involves things like external relations, client service teams, managing client service teams, leading a lot of our industry initiatives, leading a lot of our business development initiative, working through a lot of our training programs. And I work very closely with our Chief Business Development Officer, as well as Jen and the entire business development team. I tend to focus on the revenue side of things for the organization and that involves kind of both protecting revenue and expanding revenue. But the way I always kind of think about uh revenue is it's about your relationships. And so I'm really in the business of working through our relationships with my partners and our associates to ensure that they're doing everything they can to optimize delivery and just provide great services and a great client experience. And I've been with the firm since I was a summer associate. So I am 24 years and coming on 25 years in and I've served in a couple of different roles. I was on the executive committee for two terms. I led some innovation efforts for the firm and I've done a lot of recruiting and things like that, but most recently I've served in the president role for about three years and absolutely love it.

Ed: Fantastic. Thank you. That's a brilliant tenure to have as well over the 20 year mark is always worth celebrating and being quite proud of.

Brad: Yeah, thanks so much.

Ed: Jennifer, what about yourself? As I said, you and I have spoken a couple of times over the last years, I think it is now. So I know a little bit, but please do tell us for yourself.

Jennifer: Yeah. Well, first off, thank you, Ed and Passle for inviting Brad and I to participate in your podcast series. I have been at Quarles since 2016 and in June that will be eight years here at the firm. My role really has evolved from serving as a director of business development for specific practice groups. So initially, I worked closely with intellectual property, labor and employment and data privacy and security. And now I've expanded to serve as the firm-wide director of business development here at the firm. In my new role, I oversee a department of 10 people um including four managers who are supported by six specialists and these manager specialist teams, if you will provide counsel to specific practice groups, so they're very knowledgeable and deep into the type of practice. Each of these attorneys are involved in from an industry perspective as well as their legal practice area. I also oversee the firm's 14 client service teams. And in that role, I work closely with Brad and each client relationship lawyer for 14 of our marquee clients. And in that role, what we do is coordinate, manage and strategize with these teams in order to, as Brad mentioned earlier, protect and retain the current work and also to try to grow new work for those marquee clients. I'm also in charge of office marketing, which seems like it would be much different than my BD role. However, the Association of Corporate Council or ACC is really woven into our firm strategy from both a BD and marketing perspective. And much of that involvement involves local level or office level or market level type support. And I should point out that for each of these responsibilities. I do work closely with our director of marketing operations who has a team of nine really amazing marketing and communications specialists that work for him. 

Ed: Well, you seem to have quite a lot on your plate. I didn't know where it was going next, but I know that you've got lots that you handle. But I think that was more than I even knew. So, thanks for joining us and taking the time out of what seems a very busy day. When we first spoke about doing this podcast and sort of connecting the two of you so that you could share your story and your ways as it were, we talked about sort of leading the charge and harmonizing firm leadership and BD Jennifer, I'm gonna come to you first. Can you tell us a little bit about the connection and the working dynamic between Brad the BD function. And if that's different from other firms that you've worked with previously, perhaps?

Jennifer: You bet.  I would describe it as a highly collaborative dynamic between Brad and the BD function here at the firm, Brad has regular standing meetings with our CBDO and with me and he dedicates the time to meet with us because it's a priority for him. And also the lines of communication are always open between Brad and really any member of our BD team. In fact, members of my team have expressed to me that they value this relationship with Brad and it's not something they experience at their prior firm. It really is, I think an unusual relationship. Brad is always open to new suggestions and ideas from our team and is in turn supportive of our efforts. Not only is he supportive of them, but he's a champion of them. In fact, he uses valuable time in his state of the firm address to talk about the accomplishments of our team and the importance of marketing and business development for the growth of the firm as a whole. And when this message is communicated in this type of setting to the whole firm, I think it helps to further steep BD into the firm's culture on a regular basis. And I have to point out that what is truly notable about Brad's dynamic with our team. And really any team that Brad works with is that he always makes sure he recognizes the people who dedicate their time and energy to an initiative. I guarantee you, you will not hear Brad speak or participate in a panel without him taking the time out to thank someone who he works with or someone who worked really hard to make a particular event or initiative a success. And this is the kind of thing that really motivates our team members to continue to want to do really great work and to want to stay here at the firm. It  makes them feel like they contribute to a greater whole. And I think that's really, really important in this role.

Ed: Yeah, I can imagine it makes a huge difference. And Brad I don't know if you want to add anything to that cos uh that sounded a lot like, you know, Jennifer singing your praises and rightly so if that's the way. I like the fact that you said a highly collaborative dynamic that was kind of the line you opened with. Brad, is there something that triggered that process for you to have that dynamic between you and the BD teams? Is there something that you can think of that sort of made you made you really take and work in that fashion?

Brad:  Yeah. You know, first off, I have to kinda say a few things about Jennifer and, you know, as you can immediately tell, my job is easy because I work with great people who are committed to the enterprise and committed to just doing wonderful things. And Jennifer is at the heart of that. And, you know, when you've got a team in your BD department, your marketing department, in your commerce department, rowing in the same direction, really focused on the organization and focus on moving things forward. It's special and, you know, that’s where we are. You know, at the end of the day, a lot of initiatives, a lot of what you do in professional services firms is iterative, right? You're trying to do something and you're trying to do a similar thing again, you're trying to make it better and there's always kind of this continuous improvement loop that you're focused in on and it could be hard, you know, if people aren't enthusiastic and if they're not invested, but I mean, as you can tell from Jen, she's deeply invested in all kinds of, you know, what we're trying to accomplish. And so, you know, it's teams like with, led by people like Jen that really, really make the difference. And I think is, you know, what is propelling us to do great things today. And it's funny, I have two, I have two calls that are essentially standing calls. The same call includes our amazing Chief Business Development Officer, Jill, our chief people officer and Chief Diversity Officer, Ony Beverly and our amazing Strategic Advisor, Cornell Boggs. Those two sets of calls are my favorite calls. They're the calls like I cannot wait to have this call. You want the call to go longer. You don't, you know, you don't run out of talk about, you don't run out of uh things to really kind of focus in on and set forward action items. So could be kind of, you know, pivoting to the collaboration piece. I think for me, you know, I always grew up having a job, you know, when I was 10, you know, I was mowing lawns throughout our neighborhood. You know, when I came home from college, I always had a job over the winter holiday, whether it was a tennis instructor or working at a retail shop or helping out somebody, I always had jobs. And even in college, you know, throughout all my four years undergrad, I had at least one job at all times and often times two in addition to kind of studying and that sort of thing. And what I learned through those processes is to seeing different organizations and being a part of different teams. I quickly noticed that when you collaborate in de silo, you get a lot more done and it's more enjoyable, the overall experience for your team is more enjoyable. And so at least for me personally, in terms of how collaboration has become an important pillar from my approach to the world because of what I observed, you know, that when things are siloed or people are hiding information and not rowing in the same direction, it's entirely unfulfilling. And so for me, you know, it just to me,  I don't see it as aspirational. I see it as the default. I think, you know, you have got to set that collaboration as that's the baseline, that's not the aspiration. And so, you know, as I see it relative to the business development team here as part of the deal, we need to have an open door policy. You know, at the end of the day, we are serving our economic engines within the firm, who are our attorneys and our great business professionals who drive all the results that we get. But that means we've got to collaborate and we've got to be in it together. And I think, you know what I really like about your podcast is it focuses on professional services broadly. And I think that collaboration thing is really, really critical across, you know, enterprises, not just law firms. So that's really kind of like came to the concept of collaboration being so important to the way I see the world.

Ed:  Yeah. And I think when Jennifer just said the highly collaborative dynamic and that was sort of sentence number one of this episode effectively. And you've just mentioned it a couple of times as well. It's quite clear that having that collaboration and the words that I think you used were all rowing in the same direction which I've not heard before. And I love, I love that phrase. Now I'm gonna use that a lot more. It makes such a big difference if everybody is doing the same action in the same direction. So as I say, I'm gonna keep that one. I've written it down in massive uppercase letters in my notepad.

Brad: I love it.

Ed: Brad just very quickly touching on you've been over 20 years at the firm, do you think that that's this situation or this collaboration, is it something that's been in the DNA of the firm? Or do you think it's something that's developed over the time that you've been there or do you think you've maybe even driven it a little harder since you've become the firm president?

Brad: You know, like I'm proud to say that collaboration has been a part of our DNA since I've been with the firm. I mean, I joined the firm in 1999 because I saw a collaborative firm and I saw a firm that would really see how your career, how you won your career unfold and focus efforts and empower you to do that. And it was collaborative that said, of course, we've grown, you know, we're now 1000 people with the attorneys and our business professionals, 550 lawyers. So we've become a far different organization from when I started. So, you know, I think over time focusing in on, you know, the collaborative sort of piece has been really important and you gotta do things to institutionalize it. So as you think through, you know, cross-selling and cross-office marketing, cross-office working, you know, we came to the theme of one long hallway, you know, many years ago under John Daniels, our predecessor, Kim Johnson, my predecessor as well and just some great leaders in the firm and we've really pivoted that to just the concept of One Quarles. And so, I do think that, you know, my goal has been to move the needle in having offices work more together and having kind of more of a baseline across the firm so that people even understand what our services are that we're offering and who the clients are. So I really try to weave in the voice of the client into all things we do.  I think professional service firms, it's kind of funny to me tend to have client service teams and the client service teams meet a lot and oftentimes regularly, but they don't necessarily talk about the client. They may talk about the metrics and the hours and this and that and I think probably many, many, many teams don't include the client. And so one of my favorite things is on our client service teams is to have our client service team leader, bring in one of the client contacts and have the client contact talked about how their business is doing what their goals are and what their aspirations are because I feel like that really binds us to the client and helps our lawyers understand that while we're working in a legal dimension for this particular client, the real dimensions business, and when we're learning about their business, it helps us, you know, serve them better. 

Ed: Yeah, it probably puts a little bit of grounding there as well where you have a better understanding of what that client is, does on a day-to-day basis, what they need, what they want, for example, that's a really good idea to do that as well. I'm sure a few people listening to this will probably be taking that idea away to implement themselves. 

Brad: Ultimately, we're in the people business. And, you know, my perspective is, if you're not including the people component of your clients into how you're approaching your service to them, it's a miss. It's also truly enjoyable. You know, when you're helping your clients really solve their business problems, albeit in the lens of the law.

Ed: Yes, mostly enjoyable. Jennifer, we've talked about this before, but how does the dynamic of working with Brad? How does that help enhance your BD efforts? And are there any examples that you're able to talk about of success stories perhaps?

Jennifer:  Sure. Well, as president, you know, Brad naturally has many irons in the fire. So continuous communication really is almost a necessity and we can't forget that Brad is always looking at ways to develop new business himself. Perhaps, you know, they say he practices what he preaches. So we're always communicating about his new opportunities and I should point out also that many, if not most of his new opportunities are in areas outside of his own practice area. And I think that is due in large part to the fact that he serve as serves as a firm president and he's very knowledgeable about all of our different practice areas or different attorneys and what we have to offer. And I guess a really good example of this collaboration and high level of communication is this past year, Brad reconnected with a friend of his from a large bank, which was a current client of the firms. But the work for this bank had slowed down a bit over the past 10 years or so. And over this past year, Brad has really taken the time to rekindle this relationship and to introduce members of our firm to key decision-makers at the bank. And we are now part of the bank's preferred panel and we are included in each of their RFPs. Our attorneys have the opportunity to and they do participate in different programs. The bank offers that are perhaps focused on professional development for junior associates. We're given the opportunity to provide feedback on the banks procedures and guidelines, things like that. We've already grown the work for this client by 25% since October 1st of  last year. Another quick example is just last week, Brad attended the Association of University Technology Managers Conference or the autumn annual conference in San Diego with our research institutions industry team. And just like the other attorneys who attended, Brad has a list of business development follow up expectations and those expectations were developed in tandem with our business development managers and specialists. And I have no doubt that he will in turn take those opportunities and make them into something for the firm. So I guess our collaborative dynamic with Brad, it not only fosters this BD culture internally and others see Brad doing what we're wanting them to do, but it also contributes to dollars in the door for the firm. And again, it's taking this president role and using BD in a dynamic relationship with the BD folks to bring money and new work into the firm.

Ed: Some very good examples of success. And also just that last couple of sentences that you said are direct and to the point it is growing the firm as it's happening at the same time and it's influencing perhaps other partners within the firm. Would you agree with that as well, Brad or Jen? You can both answer, one at a time though, do you think that there has been a culture shift within other partners in the firm?

Brad: Yeah. You know,  I'll jump in here. I think there's been a culture shift in the sense of sharing credit where people recognize the value of engaging attorneys um across the office to help them and work in teams and kind of sharing credit um in those enterprises. So that it's kind of, you know, again, de-siloing, it's not just about one person and one person getting credit. So I think that that has been really helpful. I also think through, you know, our Chief Business Development Officer Jill Weber and kind of the way she has approached, making sure our attorneys are getting coaching when needed, linking people up when there are, you know, opportunities that people can be jointly working on. And again, this, this concept of not hiding opportunities, but showcasing opportunities and bringing people together to really,  you know, to chase those and pursue those. It's not that we didn't do that before, but we didn't do it. I think as institutionally or as widespread or as across offices and across practices. And so again, as we've continued to grow, that's a really, really, really important piece. And, you know, one thing I wanted to share and this may come up in your other conversations Ed. But I think we forget that business development isn't about selling yourself, at least for folks at our firm. You know, we think about it as selling our expertise and selling others. And so I'm not in the business of when I go to a conference promoting what I can do or promoting, you know, that I'm a good attorney and that sort of thing. I'm in the business of promoting my colleagues and you know, showcasing their great expertise and their great skill set. And, you know, that's the kind of thing I think that really builds camaraderie, it builds team and when you do that, it just makes it the kind of experience that people want to be a part of. So I think in that regard are um you know, our approach as has been really effective and kind of more enterprise-wide and it's not limited to just partners in this, you know, even today, I just received an inquiry from a couple of associates who need some help on a business development opportunity. And so after this call, when I jump on the phone with them and can help them think it through, give them some ideas and then can just get out of the way and be there to help them, you know, when they need it. But so I want to be sure to kind of just share that share that piece.

Ed: Thank you. Jen, did you have anything to add with regards to maybe a culture shift within the firm during your time that you've been there at least?

Jennifer: Yeah. I guess I totally agree with Brad too. You know, I wouldn't, you know, characterize it as some large shift or big sea change.  But maybe more so uh as a steadily rising tide. I think the firm has been known for its focus on BD for a long time. And in fact, that is one of the primary reasons I joined the firm eight years ago. And since that time, I have not seen this big drastic change, but I think what I have seen is a real, just continuous increase in the value placed on business development and the role that the BD team plays with our attorneys. We're integrally involved in strategic planning for all of our practice groups and the attorneys really rely on us to work with them to implement those plans. So I guess effectively, we have a seat at the table helping to drive strategy on a regular basis. And that's kind of how the firm operates. They really rely on us and they trust us to help guide them with business development and marketing. It’s our expertise, it's what we do, but not necessarily theirs. So it's really our job to be proactive, to see around corners for them and to help guide them as best we can. So no big real culture shift or sea change. But I think a continuous increase in um the value they place on business development generally is how I characterize it.

Brad: Spot on Jen, you know, I'll add on that. I've seen  professional service organizations over the years that the BD function can be, you know, the department of no, or department of frustration. And, you know, I think one of our hallmarks has been that we want our BD department to be and it is, in fact, the Department of Health, the Department of Action, the Department of, you know, help you get what you want to accomplish and that's always been an ethos, but it's definitely become a bigger ethos. And, you know, I think continued as attorneys across the firm have realized, oh my gosh, when I turn to the BD department, they're helping me, they're helping me think through and really curate this concept or curate this idea and focus in on the action steps that are critical. You know, when our new Chief Business Development Officer started several years ago,  I remember being in some interviews with her and then being connecting up with the BD team shortly thereafter. And for me, I said, we need to be in the business of action. We have to have an action bias, you know, of course, you need Architect plans and come up with things like that. But at the end of the day to really help our lawyers, it's about action and telling people what kind of actions they can take to be most effective. So I would say kind of that rising tide Jen, that iterative sort of changes have been in part, I think because the BD team and people like Jen,  that's example one, are taking action and really kind of creating action steps and things that people can move on and then actually executing. And so to me, that's been just a really enjoyable thing to see the BD team engaged on.

Ed: And I think the rising tide metaphor is a perfect one because Brad, as you said, has been part of the DNA of Quarles for as long as you can remember. So that rising tide metaphor really makes perfect sense that it's just sort of that continual um connection and growth that's happening um with working alongside the business functions like marketing and BD. So, again, you guys are nailing it with the metaphors and the phrases, I'm gonna leave this podcast today just using all of these. I'm gonna take them all from you. As we get towards the latter part of this episode, I wanted to, again, I'll get your answers from both of you, but maybe I'll start with Jennifer on this one. Is, do you have any advice? And I know that's such a broad question. But do you have any maybe one piece of advice that you can pick out for BD professionals looking to engage and work more symbiotically with the firm's president or whatever that position is within their firm?

Jennifer: Yeah, that's a tough one because there are so many rules to live by if you will to make this a success. But I guess my one piece of advice would be to understand what your firm's overall goals and priorities are and work with the firm president or managing partner, whomever it is that you work closely with, at marketing and BD to really understand what the firm wants to achieve and then develop your BD initiatives to directly support those goals and be able to in turn articulate how your initiatives will contribute to the firm's goals. Because at the end of the day, you know, Brad had said that we get things done, we're known as a department that does get things done, but you have to be doing the right things and the right things are the things that will move the needle and things that will in the end support the firm's overall goals. So I think if you focus on that, and you have collaboration and communication with your firm president, you will be a success.

Ed: I did say it's a bit of a tough question to pin down to one piece of advice because I'm sure that there's probably 15, 20 things that you could think of that that would benefit the listeners.

Jennifer:  Definitely, in fact, I wrote a 20 legal marketing rules to live by for my team. I bring up periodically with them to remind them. But yeah, there are many, many rules to live by.

Ed: That sounds like another podcast that we might have to do. 

Brad: It might apply beyond special services too.

Jennifer: Of course,

Ed: Which means Brad, I'm gonna ask you a similar question. It’s possibly even harder, what would be your piece of advice for firm leaders to work more harmoniously with BD and other business functions of the firm.

Brad: Yeah, you know, we talked about this a little earlier about the need to weave BD and kind of the marketing functions throughout what you do as an organization. And, you know, one thing that I'm really intentional about is that each of the executive committee meetings, I do a report and I'm always weaving in BD so that everybody sitting at that table is hearing about what our attorneys are doing. They're hearing about initiatives that are underway and they're hearing about what our BD team is doing. And it's kind of sharing that information. I think in the kind of the leadership role that's really critical. I think at the leadership table oftentimes you get very focused in on policy which is, which is appropriate. But if you're just focused in on policy and just focused on management and forgetting about the overall economic engine that BD is so critical to then I think is a, you know, you're kind of missing it. And so then that the additional part that's really critical to that for leaders within firms, is you got to know your BD team, you have to have relationships with them. You have to be open to listening to their ideas and empowering them to come up with great concepts. I think there's this thought that leaders and firms or that people could come up with great ideas and drive them. And I think that's not entirely true at all. I think that the people that really come up with great ideas are the Jens of the world, the Jills of the world, the BD teams who've seen a lot and they see it across practice groups and they've seen it at other firms and they come up with really great ideas. And so if you don't have that kind of relationship with your team, you're not gonna be able to meaningfully harvest those ideas. And so that's where I end Ed,t for leadership is just, you know, if you really want to drive results, you've got to have a phenomenal relationship with your BD team.

Ed:  I think that that last sentence is impactful. You've got to have that relationship. And I think that's really useful for everybody listening to here as well and that we're getting the opinion from yourself Brad and from you Jennifer. So it's a really nice sort of double faceted opinion or sort of angle that we're getting. And so I appreciate that both of you have given us, a really good way to look at it because understanding the way that Brad views it and the way that Jennifer views, it is really quite interesting from my side at the very least. So I hope that the listeners are also getting a fair bit from it. Thank you so much for both, taking the time to come onto the podcast today. I really appreciate it.

Brad: Ed, Thank you. This has been an absolute pleasure and Jen, kudos to you for everything you do for the firm. We really appreciate it and uh collaborating with you is just an amazing thing.

Jennifer: Excellent. Thank you, Brad and I will talk to you in less than an hour.

Ed: You both have to go back to work and I'm sure you've got together for the rest of the day. But again, thank you for your time. We'll speak soon, Jen, maybe there's episode two on the cards for us um with your 20 points.  But again, thank you for your time. 

Brad: Love it.

Jennifer: Be happy to, just let me know.

Ed: Thanks.


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