“Timing is everything,” or so goes the old adage. But, as Nicky Acuna Ocana’s guest on this episode of Leaders With Ambition amply demonstrates, our choices also have everything to do with creating good luck!
As Chief Executive Officer at Wilkin Chapman Solicitors, Robin Simmonds has brought intentionality to every stage of his career development – which isn’t to say that he hasn’t also had the benefit of fortunate timing on his side!
He moved into the legal services realm (from his prior experience with corporate media) at a time when law firms were recognizing and poised to embrace the critical role that business management has to play.
Having secured an MBA degree, Robin was perfectly positioned to bring new strategies and practices to huge global operations like DLA Piper, where he was Head of Operations, and Baker McKenzie, where he was COO and Director of Operations for Africa.
You’ll learn on this episode about lessons learned along the way, including how it’s essential to network (even when you don’t feel like it!) and why emotional intelligence is a key ingredient when it comes to bringing teams along and cultivating healthy workplace cultures.
Robin shares career highlights, challenges and guiding principles applicable at every stage of your professional development. “A good chunk of luck is always required along the way,” says our guest. “But you can make your own luck if you put yourself out there, challenge yourself and add new strings to your bow.”
Leadership and teamwork were central early in Robin’s life growing up as one of five in Bedford with more of a penchant for sports than academics. This competitive drive building on early experiences lead to him pursuing a degree in business management that set Robin on his career course.
The key skills he learnt, his background and familiarity with finance, HR and marketing contributed to Robin’s early roles and high-level exposure to the world of business.
The two-fold benefit that drove Robin’s decision to pursue an MBA and to help him in his corporate development role at Centaur Media, as well as an investment in his long-term career flexibility and prospects.
Finally, we learnt how Robin arrived post-MBA at DLA Piper just as law firms were beginning to embrace the importance of integrating business managers. A steep learning curve!
Build strong relationships with the right people within practice groups.
Build consensus around the things you want to do; plans you want to implement.
Demonstrate your value-add within the practice by getting things done!
Emotional Intelligence: Why knowing how to read the room and having an ability to bring people along with you are such critical components to corporate management success.
The Right Fit
About the mix of challenges, personalities and opportunities that have driven Robin’s passion for working within the legal sector.
Career Stretch: Why Robin seized an opportunity to move from DLA Piper to Baker McKenzie, where he developed the firm’s first Global Africa Strategy.
Work-Life Balance: How Robin navigated the demands of raising two young kids and the sacrifices required while building a career at the same time.
Building Bridges: Why networking is essential and worthy of the energy, time and effort required!
Why Mentorship? About the coaching and development Robin was fortunate to receive early in his career and how it has shaped his approach both to seeking help from and giving help to others.
Reaching a Pinnacle: What it feels like to be CEO at Wilkin Chapman, a career objective that has allowed Robin to leverage his career experience and strategic/operational skills.
Building Workplace Cultures: Why Robin is vigilant about maintaining frameworks and structures that support core values from top to bottom and across the enterprise.
Why the MBA?
It facilitated Robin’s move from the media sector into legal services.
It provided a foundational framework for creating initiatives and proposals.
Robin’s Career Challenges
Finding and recruiting the talent necessary for growth.
Retaining high-quality staff and controlling the rate of turn-over.
Moving from the media sector to the legal sector.
Creating alignment among relevant stakeholders and ensuring they are on board with your strategy.
Whatever your role within a law firm: Make sure you have a clear plan!
Switching from a corporate to a partnership model.
Robin’s Career Highlights
Achieving his long-term goal: becoming CEO of a regional firm.
Securing an invitation to Harvard Business School’s highly competitive leadership programme.
Working with two of the “best global law firms.”
Business travel that has taken him around the world.
Leading a regional firm whose culture and mission align with his ideals.
Nurturing healthy, resilient workplace cultures.
“A good chunk of luck is always required along the way. But you can make your own luck if you put yourself out there, challenge yourself and add new strings to your bow.”
“One of the biggest ways of (demonstrating value) is getting things done; supporting the firm and partners in achieving what they want to achieve.”
“Using skills of persuasion and the ability to bring people with you rather than telling them what to do really works in my experience.”
“It’s non-negotiable. Networking is just something you have to focus on and invest lots of time and effort in – even when you don’t feel like doing it.”
“(Networking) is about building and maintaining relationships – not just connecting with somebody on LinkedIn.” (Nicky)
“Culture for me is one of the most important parts of success in business … You can put in place really important frameworks and structures to help develop that culture.”
“When you come across behaviours that are contrary to your firm’s values, then you need to call that out. You need to address it, no matter who is exhibiting them or however senior they might be.”
“People really care about ESG (Environmental, Social & Governance). If you’ve got an actual belief system and policy that people are living and breathing, as with the culture, then you are more likely to get the talent that you need and want.” (Nicky)
About Robin Simmonds
Robin is a law firm CEO with a strong strategy and finance background and over 20 years’ experience of leading successful legal operations in the UK, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, the US and Asia-Pacific. He has an MBA from Henley Business School and has also spent time studying at Harvard Business School on their Law Firm Leadership Programme.
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. With an extensive network of senior and board-level contacts, she is also heavily involved in Executive Search, focusing on Director level appointments across Business Services for a range of Professional Services firms.
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