Change, challenge and growth are all central drivers in the career of Adam Soames, featured guest on this episode of Leaders With Ambition. In many ways his 27-year career in professional services reflects perfectly the very things that he avidly loves about team sports: collaboration, creativity, hard work and hard play! With his MBA and executive coaching certification, Adam is well known for bringing a fresh, motivational style, most recently as Global Head of Business Development & Strategy at Hogan Lovells.
The insights he acquired through his world travels early in life and the tireless entrepreneurialism his parents modelled have contributed to Adam's success, working in high-profile roles leading transformation across highly competitive business development and marketing environments within accounting, consulting and legal.
This lively conversation with host Nicky Acuna Ocanahighlights the importance of networking, mentoring and – above all else – continually challenging ourselves to stretch and grow. A lifelong learner, Adam has keen advice for young Business Development and Marketing professionals, especially those looking to garner trust in a legal context: “It’s quite tough when you first go into law,” he says, “but the beauty of it is that lawyers respect specialists … and when you’ve demonstrated what you can do and deliver, they really let you get on with things.”
Adam revisits career accomplishments as well as lessons learned while navigating bumps along the way. The episode wraps with Adam sharing six pieces of wisdom – including seeing challenges as opportunities, staying agile when circumstances demand that we adapt and always remembering “the first rule of selling in any world – but particularly professional services: If you don’t ask, you don’t get!”
Listen to the full audio episode with Adam Soames here
Adam summarises the two halves of his career thus far, including working in Big Four accounting and consulting firms followed by 15 years in 'Big Law'.
The common theme over the course of Adam’s career has been a drive towards optimisation in client engagement, business development and revenue generation.
A strong work ethic (inspired by his parents, small business owners who struggled at times) has been the central driver in every aspect of Adam’s career and a key ingredient to his success in “work hard, play hard” cultures.
Having started his first job at the age of 14, Adam is a huge advocate for getting kids exposed to the value of hard work and money relatively early in life.
Sports of all kinds have always engaged Adam, who enjoys the discipline, and release from running, cycling and trying to stay in shape (injuries not withstanding!).
About the impacts that both early jobs and traveling (including across China and the U.S., where he met a huge variety of people) prior to university had on Adam.
A degree in business, with a placement year at PwC, made sense for Adam, who was interested in multiple disciplines and a platform for expanding knowledge. His degree in Financial Services offered that mix.
The early jobs that captured Adam by exposing him to the excitement of looking for opportunities, targeting markets, trying different sales methodologies.
Coming out of university in 1996, graduates exceeded available jobs but Adam directly targeted the top 20 Accountancy and Law firms, and succeeded in securing offers at professional services organisations that afforded him invaluable on-the-job experience.
Although he considers himself a business development and marketing professional, much of Adam’s career has been about driving strategic transformation.
A range of professional experiences across sectors refined Adam’s strengths through trial and error, taking risks and evolving new and nimble approaches.
Personal touch, individual outreach and customisation of communication has been a hallmark of Adam’s approach to business development and marketing.
Reflections on the Big Four: Adam recalls Deloitte’s culture and its combination of smart, entrepreneurial people led by a visionary unafraid of driving wholesale transformation with a focus on being the leading professional services firm.
The decision to acquire an MBA: It took a while for academia to fully click, but once it did (and he understood which environments best supported his intellectual growth) Adam was eager to expand his academic horizons.
Why Adam believes coaching skills are so important – and the Sales Academy he has established at Hogan Lovells to share BD-focused training and coaching with the lawyers and BD teams across the firm.
About the skills that Adam’s coaching certification fostered:
Asking questions in the right way.
Ensuring the right balance between mentoring and helping others find answers for themselves.
Adam is passionate about onboarding new skills at every stage of life.
Transformation Can Be Challenging, but also Rewarding
Adam learned that making change can involve a delicate balance, allowing people time to retool and get onboard but also knowing when they are simply not the right fit. Change creates opportunities as challenges; but it's about winning hearts and minds on those opportunities!
One thing that Adam has learned over the years
It’s critical to be anchored to something you have control over in terms of driving change. When your role starts to drift, it’s easy to lose focus and grow frustrated.
Moving into the legal realm was a big transition, but one that worked for Adam because of the culture, size, high-calibre team, learning opportunity and openness to making changes around client engagement and business development practices.
Hogan Lovells represented a big change and Adam had to earn trust from the firm's leadership, but once he did they opened space for him to practice his craft and demonstrate value-add.
Adam’s Career Highlights
Creating and leading the sales transformation programme at Hogan Lovells, which recently won a an FT Innovative Lawyers award. It involved leading a highly collaborative, close-knit cross-business services core team, and was personally sponsored by the CEO and Managing Partner for Clients & Industries. In just 18 months, this has included the strategic deployment of a pitch-to-win best practice approach that’s delivered dramatic results, the establishment of a Sales Academy for lawyer training and coaching, and the highly successful piloting of a new business incentive scheme.
Establishing what has become a market-leading industries programme, approach and BD team at Hogan Lovells, as a centrepiece of the firm’s strategy.
Reimagining and reshaping the client experience and client journey at Hogan Lovells, with the creation of a Focus 50 client programme that had substantial impact on revenues and profitability of a select group of important clients to the firm..
Building outstanding, high performing teams who Adam has been truly proud of in his various roles at Hogan Lovells and Grant Thornton.
Introducing and working with some fantastic clients at Hogan Lovells.
The several, major merger integrations he has been through in his career – there is nothing like a merger to accelerate your learning curve and opportunity-creating change!
Continuing to learn and grow through his MBA and Executive Coaching qualification, while applying his learning live in practice through his work.
The Role of Networking
Overcoming his natural introversion, Adam very deliberately put himself in a growth mindset when it comes to building connections with people. He attended events, got involved with organisations and prioritised helping others.
Adam, who runs a networking programme at Hogan Lovells, deeply believes that intentionally cultivating and maintaining connections with others pays off exponentially over the course of a career.
Afraid of approaching someone you don’t know? You’re not alone. Adam’s advice: Look for signals, stay open, introduce yourself and you’ll be surprised at the positive response. It becomes second nature!
Challenges in Adam’s Career
Changes in leadership that create uncertainty and potential inflection points (but also opportunities).
The personal imprint of watching his parents struggle (and overcome) in his formative years that today fuels a drive to do things differently.
Adam’s Words of Wisdom
See challenges as opportunities.
Learn from others. Really understand how people tick. It will help you deliver as a professional as well as personally.
Work hard. As they say, people create their own “luck.” It’s true!
Find outlets to maintain balance, a sense of regeneration, personal reflection and fresh perspective.
'If you don’t ask, you don’t get." Be somewhat bold about driving change and trying things out, even in risk-averse environments.
If something isn’t going right, adjust! Agility is absolutely critical in such a fast moving world!
“The common theme of everything I’ve done has been about driving change and transformation.”
“I enjoyed working more than going to school and I think that’s a really important learning point … knowing that you have to work hard to enjoy life”
“It’s really important to me having a variety of things to expand my knowledge, and that’s what you get with a business degree – a little bit of everything, a little bit of law, a little bit of economics, a bit of politics, a bit of psychology.”
“Being static and stagnant for me is not the best place to be. I need things to be happening. I need to be driving those things happening.”
“For me the first rule of selling in any world – but particularly professional services – is: If you don’t ask, you don’t get!”
“How you develop a sales orientation, that entrepreneurial mindset, is critical.”
“There’s a balance between coaching and mentoring and advice and guidance. Ultimately, I thought that (coaching training) would help interpersonally with my management style and myself”
“If you make small, incremental improvements it can actually have a massive impact on the overall outcome. And it’s much easier to drive big change through those smaller changes.”
“If I’m not able to drive change and get results and it’s becoming a drag, I need to look at whether it’s the right role for me.”
“It’s quite tough when you first go into law, but the beauty of it is that lawyers respect specialists more than any other profession and when you’ve demonstrated what you can do and deliver, they really let you get on with things.”
“For anyone coming into law, young professionals, you’ve got to earn trust and work hard to earn that trust but, once you’ve done it, it really does open up so many avenues.”
“One of the important things about networking is not necessarily what you personally get out of it. It’s actually about what others get out and what you can do to help others.”
“Anyone who is getting into their career now, you cannot underestimate the importance of building that network, staying in contact with people from school and colleagues when they move on or you move on, because over time it will really help you.”
“You’ve got to try things out. It’s a very difficult environment in law because it’s naturally risk averse. So there’s always that fear of failure and what impact it has. But if you don’t try, it’s really difficult to improve and evolve. So you have to take that first step; that leap of faith. And things won’t always go right, but you learn and adjust.”
About Adam Soames
Adam has long been the Marketing & BD leader Hogan Lovells calls upon to lead its major strategic transformation projects – innovating the way the firm engages with clients and markets. He has most recently led the development and roll-out of the firm’s award winning Sales Transformation Programme, which sits at the heart of the firm’s strategic priorities, and previously built the firm’s market-leading global clients and industries program.
During his time with the firm Adam has led the business development teams globally for practices, clients and industries, as well as pitch & pursuits, strategy and business intelligence. He has also worked with the firm’s leadership team on the development and implementation of the firm’s strategy.
Adam joined Hogan Lovells fifteen years ago, from Grant Thornton in the UK, where he was Head of Sales & Business Development, having previously worked in BD in accountancy and consulting, including at Deloitte and PwC. As part of both his MBA and BA degrees, Adam’s dissertations have focused on business development and client management in professional services.
About Nicky Acuna Ocana
Nicky has led high performing recruitment teams for over 20 years. As the Regional Managing Director of Ambition UK, Europe and USA, she leads a team of highly-skilled recruitment consultants who are experts in their niche specialist areas across Business Services for a range of Professional Services firms.