PROFIT, time sheets, and a good dose of visionary “arse-kicking”, have been revealed as the formula behind Gilbert + Tobin’s dramatic rise to prominence.
Following his provocative address at last week’s Law Masters of Management Conference in Sydney, this much is clear: Danny Gilbert did not take the scenic route to the top.
The G+T head and 2003 Managing Partner of the Year wowed a 200-strong audience by offering a rarely seen uncensored insight into the culture behind one of the nation’s fastest growing law firms.
Politely disagreeing with several recommendations put forth by Canadian management guru Gerry Riskin, Gilbert said his firm often hired lawyers who might not be the perfect fit personality-wise, is committed to making performance reviews and salaries of senior members available to the entire partnership, and is not afraid to advise staff to look elsewhere if they are unable or unwilling to hack the pace.
Taking a different tact to Riskin’s concerns over individual lawyering, Gilbert said: “When we are looking to attract people, we are not as risk adverse as others. We are prepared to bring in people who may not be the easiest of types to get along with, so long as they have a substantial reputation and can prove they can give something to the place.
“I’ve got a slightly different view on star lawyers and abhorrent behaviour. You’ve got to give flower to individuals and create an environment where the individual can be who they are.
“We’ve got to be up to the challenges of diversity and fit, and adjust to accommodate different personalities.”
He acknowledged that competitors had gone out of their way to create a “sense of belonging, or family” within their workplaces, but he personally did not consider such an approach to be “sustainable”.
Gilbert, whose address tracked the history of 42 partner- G+T in the 15 years since he established the firm with one other lawyer, continued by attributing the meteoric rise partly to a strong focus on financial performance and reward.
Ensuring the firm’s lawyers completed and submitted their time sheets satisfactorily was of crucial importance, he claimed.
“It’s not acceptable for people to work 12 hours and bill three. The asset base has to be built on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “We cannot compromise on financial management and performance. It’s the very key to our success.”
But according to Gilbert, emphasis on the almighty dollar goes both ways. He claims salaries on offer are in the top echelon and is not ashamed to admit that money can be a handy carrot to attract top talent from rivals.
“It’s a culture where financial outcomes are important. We couldn’t attract the quality of people from other firms if money wasn’t a factor.”
Finding the right people to poach was tough, he continued, but by no means mission impossible: “We have to be asking ourselves, do we have the leading talent? If not, what are we going to do about it?
“Someone has to be out there kicking-arse and making sure it’s happening.”
Once they arrive, however, open scrutiny is the norm. Unlike Riskin, who advised that individual salaries should be kept mum, Gilbert believes wages and performance levels are to be widely circulated throughout the partnership in the interests of accountability.
“Results of our 360 degree reviews are published to all partners. It’s part and parcel of developing accountability,” said Gilbert, who conceded that such an open approach did, at times, create tension.
And his message for those unable to adjust to what has proven a successful formula? “If you set goals and visions, people have to be ambitious otherwise it makes no sense. If people don’t want to achieve, they don’t belong in the organisation and should be persuaded to go somewhere else.”
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