Russ visits with Bill Boyar, co-founder of BoyarMiller, a law firm operated on entrepreneurial core values. This is not his first rodeo; Bill refers to the founding of this firm as a “lab experiment,” and explains their efforts to keep the firm independent and focused on carefully controlled growth. After 20 years of operation, the firm is working toward a multi-generational succession plan.
Russ: This is the BusinessMakers Show heard here and seen online at theBusinessMakers.com. It's guest time on the show, and as many of you know, we've had quite a few attorneys on this show over the years, usually focused on sort of one specific key aspect about their expertise. Never have we focused on the law firm until today and that's because with me today I have the co-founder and former chairman of the very entrepreneurial firm BoyarMiller and I'm talking about Bill Boyar. Bill, welcome to the BusinessMakers Show.
Bill: Thank you Russ, it's great to be here.
Russ: You bet. Well, let's start by you just giving us a description of BoyarMiller.
Bill: We're proud to have just celebrated 20 years together. We're a middle market firm. We are very purpose driven, have a mission to provide counsel beyond expectations, build lasting relationships and make a meaningful difference in people's lives. And we've built the firm based on core values. We had core values before it was fashionable. Our distinction is not what we do, which I'll get to in a second, but why we do what we do and how we do what we do. What we do is we have two groups, a business group and a litigation group. Our business group we do corporate, real estate and finance. Our litigation group we do state and federal court litigation and dispute resolution and employment. We have a real balanced group and a lot of big firm pedigree in our partner group. I'm pretty proud to be creating something that look like it's going to go multigenerational.
Russ: Well, that's really cool. Now 20 years seems like a long time for a law firm, how many lawyers are there today in the firm?
Bill: We have 24 lawyers today. And we have a couple of offers outstanding and a clerk from last summer who's on her way when she graduates in May.
Russ: Cool, cool. Now multigenerational and I have a lot of experience in doing business with law firms and boy, I always thought it was just such an unusual model, business model. When I come over here, BoyarMiller seems more like a business model to me, like a team effort and sort of a family almost and I assume that that's by design and that that's what the partners here want.
Bill: Very much so. When we started the firm 20 years ago, I had come off of being a founder of another firm and we had grown to almost 40 lawyers and I had the real privilege and opportunity to try it again and learn from the mistakes. The Harvard Business Review just came out and a whole section on failure and I look at what are lessons learned from what we did wrong. I've used this law firm for the last 20 years as a lab experiment to apply the principles of great businesses to an industry that doesn't, that really rejects core business principles. So we've organized this firm from a governance and from a finance compensation mentoring and training process to really emulate what really great companies do.
Russ: Wow, that sounds cool to us, obviously we're business focused, but I can relate to it so much cause these firms that I used to work with, they really seemed more like a loose confederation of very smart professionals with very little loyalty to the mother ship and often were sort of bopping around and changing firms. It feels like you're making this thing into a different one completely.
Bill: Five years ago in August of 2006 we got our entire group together and did an off-site and we did a ten year vision for the firm. We addressed our strengths and our weaknesses, the opportunities we saw, the threats we were facing. We had a lot of things that were both strengths and weaknesses and were both opportunities and threats and the guidance from the next generation at this firm, next generation being other than Gary and me and David Vaughn at the time was that they really wanted to see this firm survive beyond us which changed sort of the course of a lot of things. But we've always organized here to be a firm and we really have a pushdown approach, work gets pushed down. Nobody benefits from having a great year when the firm doesn't do well. We've got a strong commitment to developing our people. So when young lawyers come here, inside of three or four years, they're light years ahead of their peers that have gone and done something very narrow in one of the large law firms.
Russ: Wow. Wow, ten year planning session from a law firm, I don't think I've ever heard of that before. That's pretty unique isn't it?
Bill: I wouldn't call it planning because planning drives action. It was really a visioning experience. So what would we look like in ten years and what we would look like was independent, so we've rejected all merger opportunities that have come along which have been many. We would be in one city. I try to be in one location. We would devote ourselves to a plan for succession and leadership development. We would stay core in our practice groups so we wouldn't add a lot of super specialties and we haven't done so. So we try to be very vertical in our growth, just go deeper in our areas of expertise so the corporate area, for example, we're very deep in MNA and private equity and corporate finance and structured finance. Our litigation practice is very robust. We have a very deep real estate practice. We have a strong employment practice and we have a very strong capital markets practice.
Russ: Okay, really cool. So a lot of this came out of this meeting which was you said was in '06, right?
Russ: Okay. And that's where you used the word - succession planning actually showed up. It had not shown up before then but in this sort of everybody open your hearts up and your brains up and paint the picture of the future and succession planning came out there. Is that right?
Bill: Yes, yes. And it was a real change moment for the firm because I think everybody just assumed that I would run this firm till I went dead in my chair.
Russ: You had enough.
Bill: And I decided after that meeting that by the time I was 60 that there would be somebody else running this firm who was in their 40s. I spent a period of time studying generational differences, influences on the X generation, the Y generation, what makes us as boomers the way we are and then we adopted a formal succession plan in 2007.
Russ: Wow, and that's why you're now former chairman. Wow.
Bill: Yes, I'm a working shareholder.
Russ: All right, all right. That's real cool and today your chairman is -
Bill: Chris Hanslik.
Russ: Chris Hanslik, all right. All right.
Bill: Chris is terrific. He has been with the firm for six years. He was a partner at Thompson & Knight. When he came here I sort of knew early on that he was a real candidate to succeed me.
Russ: That's real cool. Well, I want to talk a little bit more about your history and what got you here, but after this. Talking with Bill Boyar, co-founder and former chairman of BoyarMiller and we'll be back with more after this. You're listening to the BusinessMakers Show heard here and seen online at theBusinessMakers.com. This is the BusinessMakers Show heard here and seen online at thebusinessmarkers.com and continuing on with Bill Boyar, co-founder and former chairman of BoyarMiller law firm. Now Bill, take us back in your past, in your history. Go all the way back to high school. Did you think in high school that you'd be a lawyer and someday have your own law firm?
Bill: No. I didn't know what lawyers did when I was in high school. I grew up in a family where my father was an engineer, worked for a large public company in a executive position in Philadelphia. I went to high school in Southern New Jersey and I grew up thinking that the only thing that you did was become an engineer cause that's all I knew. I was a golfer, competitive golfer in high school. When I came time for me to choose a college, I wanted to go south, play golf and go to engineering school. So I went to Tulane and I went for a year on the golf team and a year as an engineer. At the end of one year I was no longer on the golf team and I was an English major.
Russ: Quite a way to go.
Bill: So I found that I had difficulty with physics, a little bit more difficulty with chemistry so I probably wasn't engineering material but I was really good with English.
Russ: Okay, cool.
Bill: I spent my junior year abroad in Wales studying English literature and it was during that year when I was trying to figure out what I was gonna do with my future, undergraduate Bachelors of Arts in English, either go to graduate school or teach and I really didn't have a disposition to teach. We're also at that time - I'm 60 years old so at that time we were in the middle of Vietnam War. So when I looked at my options, what I really wanted to do was be a journalist. And I looked into journalism schools and the program that I wanted to go to at Northwestern was one year. I thought about business school and I started looking into business schools and those were two year programs. And going to law school was a three year program so I went to law school for three years.
Russ: So that kept you out of draft longer.
Bill: I had a low - we had a lottery back in those days. I had a low lottery number.
Russ: Oh my goodness, okay.
Bill: So it was either stay in school or get drafted. I came from a military family and even my father who was a World War II veteran was discouraged by what was going on in Vietnam and didn't want his only son in that conflict. So I went to law school. I had no idea what lawyers did. I had no lawyers on either side of my family, I'd never been exposed to it and then I had to go through a series of events so I've just been very blessed. In my second year of law at Tulane, a firm from Houston the time was called Chamberlain Hrdlicka White & Waters, Bob Waters, who was one of the founding partners at that firm, came to Tulane to interview on campus. I got a summer clerkship job in Houston; I'd never been to Houston. I came over here for a summer; I was offered a job at the end to come back. I came back to Chamberlain to work with Bob primarily and sort of say rest is history. It was just an incredible stroke of good fortune for me.
Russ: Cool, great story.
Bill: And to this day Bob is one of my dearest friends and is still a mentor. He became a partner of mine as we split off and started a firm in 1980, small firm which we grew into, like I say earlier, a 35, 37 person firm when I left. He became a client of that firm for a long time and to this day still one of my best friends.
Russ: Great, great. Now I know also though that you've practiced a lot sort of in the mid and small business range stuff and therefore you have a lot of insight there kind of like we do in the BusinessMakers Show about doing that. I assume that you chose that path because you found it to be interesting and fulfilling.
Bill: I love working with growing companies. When I was younger it was to learn from the leaders, executives in those companies since I sat on a lot of boards, public and private. So I've been an advisor for a long time and now that I'm a little bit older and more experienced I get to share what used to be precocious now wise view of the world and I love working with young entrepreneurs who are building their companies and try to help them avoid some of the mistakes and pitfalls that so many make.
Russ: Great. Well, before I let you go, I want to try to delve into a little bit of that. Let's imagine right now that we have an aspiring young entrepreneur that's kind of tuned into this and knows who you are and might know about your expertise, what kind of general advice would you give him or her about what they ought to do in sort of planning their future? If they really do think they're the kind of person that ought to get into and eventually start and run and operate their own company.
Bill: I think it starts with passion, Russ, I mean you've got to do what you love. I think the next thing is you got to do what you're really good at doing. And then the last thing is you got to do what makes sense. And it makes both sense socially and economically and people - that's what leadership is, the ability to identify that which you're really good at doing, that which you love to do and that which makes sense and that's how you build organizations, it's based on those principles. And when you add to that real values and I'm a strong believer in culture first and then the business second, people identify today with organizations that stand for something, that stand for something meaningful, that have real purpose and that have behavioral standards where people are held into account for treating both fellow employees and customers and all stakeholders respectfully. And to me that's how you build organizations, you build companies, you build them on passion and culture.
Russ: Well Bill, I really appreciate you spending time with us and sharing your story.
Bill: My pleasure, thanks Russ. Thanks for having me.
Russ: You bet, you bet. That's Bill Boyar, the co-founder and former chairman of BoyarMiller. And you're listening to the BusinessMakers Show heard here and seen online at theBusinessMakers.com.