with greg layton

The Inner Chief is for leaders, professionals and small business owners who want to accelerate their career and growth. Our guest chiefs and gurus share powerful stories and strategies so you can have more purpose, influence and impact in your career.

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In this episode we are joined by Managing Director of Parkins Lane, Rob Patterson on Humility, Relationships and Scaling Fast.

Rob Patterson is a senior executive with extensive experience in the leadership and massive growth of national professional service firms.

Rob is the former COO of HWL Ebsworth Rob where he played a key role overseeing the scaling of a small Melbourne based legal practice (40 employees, turnover $3m) into a national commercial law firm of over 600 people and turnover in excess of $150M. Now Australia’s largest firm by partner numbers.

Rob then joined Macpherson Kelley as COO and led a similar transformation and is now the Managing Director of the Parkins Lane Consulting Group which focuses on creating and executing on strategy, growth and marketing for professional services firms.

Outside of work he is a keen surfer, grows Sangiovese vines and has an amazing partner and daughter.

We talk about:

  • How he grew a business from $3M to $150M
  • The importance of relationships and being a known quantity when going for roles
  • Humility and self-regulation
  • How to grow your personal brand and business
  • How to start tough conversations

Connecting with Rob Patterson

On twitter @parkinslane and you can email him at Robert.patterson@parkinslane.com.au.

Rob is now the MD of Parklins Lane Consulting Group that works predominantly in strategy, marketing, and integrating mergers and acquisitions.

He recommends reading “Built to Last”, by Jim Collins.

Rob Patterson on the Importance of a Succinct Vision

  • We all get lost in our day to day. You know? Even I'm guilty of that on occasions. You get lost in the day to day, but sometimes you've just got to lift yourself above and go, “Okay, what are the key things we're trying to achieve, and where are we at with them?”
  • I think I was a bit of a vision sceptic before I joined HWL. Maybe because I'd seen a lot of consultants contrive wordy and lengthy vision statements that no one could remember, or they hung them up on the wall and no one ever really subscribed to. But what I think I learnt at HWL is that if you nail it and it's very succinct and you believe in it, then that drive can drive everything. You know? If you don't know what you're looking for in business, then sometimes you miss great opportunities, but if you're really tightly hones on what it is you're trying to achieve, then you do see opportunities everywhere.
  • At HWL we resolved that we were simply going to become a commercial law firm. Up until that point in time, the firm had been doing everything. It had been doing council prosecutions, it had been doing family law, it had been doing a bit of everything, and nothing particularly well. So, the first turning point was just to decide what it was we were going to do, which was to be a commercial law firm. Having decided that what it meant was that we'd started to attract people who had a similar vision. It's a powerful thing when you can say to somebody what it is you're trying to achieve, they subscribe to it, join, and it is what you say it is.

Having Difficult Conversations

  • If you've got a serious or a tough meeting to have, you call it right up front.
  • When the person walks in the room, sits down, you don't try and have clever repartee or make some jokes. You say, “This is a serious meeting and these are the things we need to discuss.”
  • In my early career I'd had some pretty tough discussions, but I might have tried to make some light discussion at the start, but it worked so more effectively, because everyone in the room knows what's going on. The other thing he taught me was that if two people are having an argument, get them both in the room with you, don't deal with them separately.
  • It's amazing how people's version of events changes when the person they're talking about is sitting opposite them.
  • I learnt that that was an important part of leadership. You know? It's never gratuitous, it's never vindictive, but it's just honest. You know? Even down to when you have to let someone go, his position was that you're doing them a disfavour every minute that you leave them in your organisation, because they could be being hugely successful somewhere else.

His Two Superpowers

  • The first is relationships. I really enjoy having strong and intimate relationships with people. Throughout my career, the management team that has worked underneath me, I've had a great relationship with. Not a relationship where you can't have tough conversations, you've got to do that, but maybe that's part of relationships. If you have respect and trust, you've got the space to have those conversations. But yeah, I love people, I love relationships, I actually love seeing people succeed. I can't remember who, there was a poet that once said every time they see someone succeed, a little part of me dies. I'm the reverse of that. I actually like seeing people succeed and doing really well, so I get off on that. I think the ability to have relationships and long lasting and deep relationships is a superpower.
  • Perhaps the other one, at a more technical level, something I really enjoy doing is integrating things. So, at HWR when we were merging with firms, one of the things I really enjoyed doing was a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. How do we integrate this new organisation that's joined us into the current one? What does that look like? How do you do it? What do you do before they even join you? One of my key learnings was make all the tough calls before they merge. You know? So, if there's some people who aren't going to make the journey across, do it before you merge, because the last thing you want to be doing in a newly formed organisation is then culling people, because it sends totally the wrong message.

What to do in moments of doubt and when your career is stalled

  • Probably my most significant moment of doubt was when I first moved into law. Within a couple of months, I vividly remember sitting up at the level 44 of Noora House thinking, “What the hell have I done?”
  • I try to find what my true North is. What is I'm trying to achieve, and in that example, what was it I was trying to do with that law firm? Then just for a while put your head down, put one foot in front of the other, and then look up after a while, and it's amazing how far you've progressed. I think if you spend too much time worrying about the outcome and not about the process, then you just create anxiety, lack of focus. So, work out where you're going and then put your head down and march towards it and then look up at appropriate junctures.
  • If you're saying, I'm stalled, I'm not going anywhere. Best person to ask, assuming you've got a reasonable relationship, is your boss. Where am I at? What do I need to do more of? If you don't have a good relationship, maybe your bosses boss.
  • Hopefully your boss has got the confidence to give you honest feedback. You know? Maybe it's up to you to create that environment.
  • Then maybe a bit of self reflection as well, as I've found with insolvency, it wasn't right for me. Maybe if you stalled, part of the journey is to ask whether you're really enjoying what you're doing and whether it's suited to your strengths. If it is, great, but if it isn't, maybe you do need to think about where next.
  • What do I need to do to really, really succeed in this role and set about doing it? I think that's what drives me. Yeah, absolutely. At some level that's definitely perfection. I like to do things really well. But yeah, I think it's probably the way I went about my sport as well, but it's certainly not how I go about my gardening. The dead plants are a testimony to that.

Routines that Drive Focus

  • My daily routine is when I sit down to do some work, I just clean up the work area. You know? I'm not filing, but I'm just cleaning it up and it's like un cluttering my mind, in a way, so just making sure that it's nice and clean and I'm ready to go. On a weekly basis, what I like to do is I get my outlook calender and I also have a manual or a paper diary, and then I put my outlook calender into my paper diary, then I overlay my exercises for the week, what I'm planning to do, my family and friends, who I'm catching up with, what I'm going to do, what I'm planning to do, and other bits and bobs, personal things, because then I can sit back and go, “That's not doable. Something's got to give,” or, “How can I rearrange it?”
    I think too often people's personal lives and work lives and family lives all collide, and they just seemed to be in a state of chaos. For me, it's a way of creating a bit of order, at least on Sunday. By Wednesday it might be a disaster, but on Sunday it's looking pretty good.
  • It just gives me line of sight. It's amazing the sort of things it will sometimes throw up. The other thing that I do as part of that process is I'll then identify what the three or four big priorities are for the week. What do I have to do this week? I'll always go back to those daily. It's amazing when you do that. You'll get to the end of the week and you may not have achieved everything you wanted to, but you've nailed the top two or three things.
    It's almost magical. It sounds a bit strange, but if you keep on going back to it daily, you just do do them because you can't escape them
  • If a more senior person was wanting me to do a major piece of work, I'd ask them what they wanted me to stop doing. I'd say, “These are my priorities, which of these do you want me to park while I deal with this other thing?” It's quite interesting. It then forces them to go, “Gosh, is this as big a priority as that?”

The Power of Networks and Your Team

  • If you're going to succeed and grow your business, whether you're a lawyer, an accountant, engineer, whatever, 80 to 90% of all your new work will come from your network
  • The only job I've ever applied for was my first one.
  • I think the most fundamental success tool for an executive is having a great team. So, I think what I would do is I would focus at least 50% of my time on creating, growing, and nourishing my team, because they're the ones that are going to get you there.