June 3, 2021
How I Made It to Firm Managing Partner: 'Be Confident in Your Authentic Self and Be the Type of Leader YOU Would Follow," Says Bobby Gerber of Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg "It’s important to understand your motivation for being in leadership. It should not be because of the perceived power of a leadership role, but about the desire to serve, and to enhance the success of others."
Robert (Bobby) Gerber, 50, Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg, Chicago. Title: Managing Partner. Practice area: Corporate and Securities Practice Group. Law School and year of graduation: University of Illinois at Chicago John Marshall Law School, 1998. How long have you been at the firm? I’m a lifer. I’ve been associated with the firm for 24 years, starting as a summer associate in 1997. I clerked during my third year of law school (fall 1997 to spring 1998) before joining Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg (NGE) as a first-year associate in September 1998. How long were you a partner at the firm before being promoted to firm managing partner? I’ve been a partner for 16 years, and I assumed the role of managing partner on June 1, 2021. Were you a partner at another firm before joining your present firm? I have spent my entire professional career at NGE beginning as a summer associate in 1997 and rising up through the ranks from associate to partner. What was the biggest surprise you experienced in becoming managing partner? Ask me in three months since I just assumed the role! In all seriousness, I
have served in several leadership capacities at the firm and, given my tenure here, I have a deep understanding of the firm. However, during my transition with Scott Fisher (immediate-past managing partner) I developed a greater appreciation of the depth, breadth and scope of issues and matters that are handled on a daily basis by the managing partner and our incredible professional leadership and their teams, that never percolate up to the executive committee or other leadership bodies. What do you think was the deciding point for the firm in making you firm managing partner? I believe that my over 20 years of experience at the firm and my various leadership roles prepared me well to take on this role as the third managing partner in the firm’s 35-year history. While I have a successful corporate practice, I have always been very involved in firm life, serving on committees as an associate and then chairing committees like the hiring committee and the marketing committee as a partner. I will be stepping down from my role as practice group chair of the corporate and securities group, and I will continue to serve on the firm’s executive committee. Through all these roles I have always focused on what is best for the firm with a “we” rather than a “me” mentality. As the primary steward of the firm’s business and ambassador for the firm, a managing partner needs to possess strong leadership skills that include
Bobby Gerber integrity, vision, business acumen and, most importantly, emotional intelligence. I am driven by my strong moral compass, my naturally collaborative nature and my sense of shared purpose. I believe that I will bring all of my skills to bear in leading our firm into the future. Who had the greatest influence in your career that helped propel you to your leadership role? There have been many people in my life, both professionally and personally, who have had a huge impact on who I am today, from my parents to numerous partners and colleagues (and former/retired partners and colleagues) at our firm who have been mentors. However, if I have to pick one person, it would be Kenneth R.R. Gros Louis. Ken was the former Vice President and Chancellor of Indiana University-Bloomington. I got to know Ken when I was an undergraduate
By Tasha Norman
June 3, 2021
What’s the best piece of advice you could give a partner who wants to make it to firm leadership? “A sign of a good leader is not how many followers you have, but how many leaders you create.” These words from Mahatma Gandhi have been meaningful to me as I have charted my course as a leader. It’s important to understand your motivation for being in leadership. It should not be because of the perceived power of a leadership role, but about the desire to serve and to enhance the success of others. I believe that everything starts with authentic relationship building, whether in client development, client service or internally developing your own “brand” within the firm. So, be true to yourself, work hard at everything you do, and opportunities will present themselves. And always remember that it’s about creating a platform to empower others. If you had a chance to advise or mentor your younger self (at any stage). What advice would you give to yourself? People who know me well know that I’m quite the talker, and I have learned, over time, that strong communication skills are as much about being an active listener as about being a good communicator. I would have shared that with my younger
student at Indiana and served on the board of Aeons, a student board that worked closely with and advised Ken on issues facing the university. Ken taught me many life lessons, but most importantly to never stop learning, to always think critically and that you are only limited by your own creativity. For over 20 years, I had the opportunity to seek his advice and mentorship, and it had a huge impact on me and the decisions and choices I have made in my career and life. These lessons have served me well throughout my professional and personal life and led to my lifelong commitment to my alma mater, which continues today with my current service on the alumni board of the Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences. self. I would also reinforce the importance of being confident in your authentic self. I now appreciate the importance of being the type of leader you would follow. What are the biggest challenges facing leaders today? The challenges we have faced over the past few years have been intensified by the events of the last year with more immediate challenges leaders need to contend with. The pandemic has created a sense of urgency around some issues that were bubbling up but may not have been prioritized by leaders pre-pandemic. Instead of one challenge, I would suggest that the following are all significant issues leaders are facing today:
• The racial reckoning we are experiencing as a society, and understanding the importance of our role as a leader to stop talking and start taking real action, even while you might feel vulnerable in this space; • The critical intergenerational juncture that we find ourselves at, and that the pandemic has brought to the fore, in terms of blending innovation and technology, something that the millennials and Gen Zs are very comfortable with, as we’ve seen
through the pandemic, and the methodology and work styles of the boomers;
• Succession planning is part of the generational challenge and a critical issue for firms to focus on—transitioning leadership to the next generation allows us to better reflect our clients in choosing our next generation of leaders from a demographic standpoint, like age, race and gender shifts; • As a values-driven business, with a strong focus on wellness and sustainability, our leadership responsibility is to overcome the challenge of keeping our business purpose-driven, and profitable; • A significant challenge is remaining agile and adaptable in the face of everchanging technology, and being able to take risks in this fast-paced environment, something law firms have traditionally had quite an aversion to.
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