Confident, not cocky. It’s a description that perfectly describes Host Nicky Acuna Ocana’s guest, Peter Skinner on this episode of Leaders with Ambition.
Having moved through the ranks of many of the UK’s most influential law firms, Peter has at every juncture taken the opportunity to stretch himself and bring others along as well. Currently Business Development & Marketing Director at Wedlake Bell, he is sharing with us insights into his professional journey and lessons learned along the way (including those picked up through bumps in the road).
Peter gives a big shout-out to the mentor who shaped his understanding of what it means to effectively manage people, providing them the permission and safety to try new things. It is, he says, about creating a supportive workplace culture that honours authenticity, diversity and the freedom to fail.
Peter also welcomes his teams to challenge the boss and ask for his time when they need it. Having made amazing inroads as a Europe board member for the Legal Marketing Association, Peter tells us about his commitment to advancing education, networking and live events that reflect his passion for ongoing growth and development. For this BDM leader, each and every day offers an invitation – for him and those around him – to learn, evolve and engage. “Create the right environment and the people who work beside and with you will perform and deliver,” he says. “It makes a learning environment that people very much want to be in.”
Peter attributes a large part of his identity and work ethic to his background in sport, playing rugby at a very high level that served as an unexpected bridge 30 years ago into the career he enjoys today.
Peter has loved his Marketing/BD journey most of all because it’s a team sport and the people he’s worked with have always aligned with his core values.
Peter’s decision to acquire a Chartered Institute of Marking (CIM) certification, which represented a commitment to working in a professional services role, provided a credential that gave him personal confidence.
From Herbert Smith (where Peter rose from low-level admin. to a marketing executive role) to Watson, Farley & Williams (an opportunity to work with and grow a bigger team).
Skill Sets Peter added at Watson, Farley & Williams
Conceiving and proactively pitching ideas to partners.
Pitching from inside out.
Learning how to run events.
Building relationships with and learning to influence Partners.
'Look for opportunities to try things and don't be afraid to make mistakes! (Just not the same ones again and again…)
Slaughter and May: Peter’s first really big, branded firm and a huge influence. It was a senior role that was a stretch – shiny and exciting so he decided just to “go for it.”
The Power of a Mentor
How Anna Jacobs at Slaughter and May helped to shape Peter’s style of managing people and creating a positive, supportive culture.
Team cultures that emphasise solidarity tend to foster success – and the psychological safety that allows people to make mistakes and learn valuable lessons.
During his relatively short stint with Allen & Overy, Peter encountered a bump in the road, pivotal takeaways included:
Feeling (and not particularly liking) what it is to be a small fish in an extremely large pond.
Recognizing how much he valued the intellectual engagement he’d had in previous jobs.
Learning that a reactive, ask-no-questions role was not for him.
Appreciating the opportunity to define what he did and didn’t want in his role.
IBB Solicitors proved a smooth place to transition and was perfectly suited to his skill set, goals and stage of family life at that time.
His stint at Berwin Leighton Paisner corresponded with a stage of life that left Peter ready for a robust, collaborative environment. He especially appreciated the energy that came from senior Partners who were “willing and wanted to be challenged.”
Peter’s role in the merger that became Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner
Merging and creating an entirely new BDM structure across the two firms.
Finding ways to smooth the process of merging two complex entities.
What it feels like to reach a pinnacle of trust and participate at the highest levels of decision-making.
Navigating Business Relationships: It’s never personal. It has to be business first. But Peter makes a point of communicating with and supporting those impacted through tough decisions.
Building a Team
Peter was compelled by the opportunity to work at Wedlake Bell because of the opportunity to build up a department that exemplified the values and style inspired by the mentors and experiences that have shaped his career.
The people, culture and overall environment at Wedlake Bell is exactly as Peter had hoped: Leadership and the team are together moving the whole department forward.
What Peter loves and emphasises in his role
Influencing the high-level firm conversation.
Working with and shaping the careers of his team.
Embracing his strengths as well as owning his weaknesses.
Bringing people on a challenging, enjoyable professional journey.
Ensuring that his team feels safe and free to try new things.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion is much more than a tickbox exercise, it is for Peter an invitation to open up to and access new ways of thinking and lived experience.
All About LMA
As a Europe Board Member for the Legal Marketing Association, Peter has been instrumental in broadening to 260 members the European base of participation, mentoring, education and networking.
Peter is a huge fan of networking in order to continually grow, contribute to and learn from a diverse range of experiences and perspectives.
Recognising that not everyone is as much of an optimist as he is – and that that’s okay!
Giving people the space to be themselves and not feel smothered by his big energy and confidence.
Finding ample time for every individual as needed.
Working closely with Partners.
Pushing big proposals over the finish line.
Being in the trenches with teams, leading and shaping successful efforts.
Watching people he has mentored move on to great firms and exciting opportunities, knowing that he has been part of their journey to success.
Words of advice
Be confident. Not cocky. Advice he was given 30 years ago that resonates still!
If you’re truly confident, you don’t need the cocky.
Learn what you need to suppress and what you need to bring to the fore.
Don’t tell people how good you are. Show them!
Don’t get complacent. Know when it’s time to move on.
Know that if you make a career stretch, you’re likely to meet the challenge!
Take opportunities to do new things.
It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers. You can always go and get them!
Words of Wisdom
“Knowing your value and contribution makes such a big difference, and that’s what Partners are looking for.” (Nicky)
“If you look back 30 years, I must be in (this career) for a reason. I love it. I enjoy it. It’s been good for me as an individual and given me a lot in terms of rewards.”
“(The CIM) was as much needed for me from a credibility perspective in business as it actually was from a personal perspective … I felt a little bit of an imposter, so it was a really personal thing for me to prove that I had the ability to do further education.”
“There are different routes to deliver (education) and actually experience is also critically important in success.”
“If you’re going to make a mistake, make a good one. But don’t make the same one!”
“You learn so much from the good people – the people you work with – and you learn so much from the people who aren’t quite so good. They both shape the person you are.”
“Create the right environment and the people who work beside and with you will perform and deliver … It makes a learning environment that people very much want to be in.”
“A bump in the road is okay so long as you understand what it is that didn’t really quite fit you.”
“I don’t like situations where I’m not influential, don’t have a voice and am just being told to do something.”
“Nothing I’ve ever done has been personal in terms of tough decisions … I think if you communicate that and you make sure to be clear with people it takes some of the personal angst out of it. You can make tough decisions but still be supportive.”
“When I grew up I wanted to build my own marketing and BD function and create an environment that was so exciting that people wanted to come to work.”
“It’s important that people feel they can be open with you. They shouldn’t be afraid of throwing things at you … Making people feel free in what they can do and say is really important.”
“The best way to get something different is to get a really diverse background, culture and who you are as individuals. If we all bring ourselves to work then you’re going to bring that authenticity and diversity.”
“(Managing effectively) is being agile in the way you do things and deal with people and giving them the moment to be them and not to smother them.”
“It’s hard losing people. I hate losing people! But when you see them go into firms where their roles are a stretch and challenge … you know that you’ve been part of the journey to help them succeed.”
About Peter Skinner
Peter specialises in marketing and business development for the legal sector. As Business Development & Marketing Director at Wedlake Bell, it's his responsibility to build and lead a team that delivers an exceptional level of professional advice and service to the business, as well as to create and maintain an environment which breeds, recognises and encourages success. Peter’s legal M&BD career has been built on these core principles, combined with a recognition that we all may need support and guidance at some point along the way.
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 US, she leads a team of highly-skilled recruitment consultants who are experts in their niche specialist areas.