Norman Wain | General Counsel, Chief of Business Affairs at USA Track & Field
Sports & Business | Passion in Career | The Finish Line | The Importance of Networking | US Soccer History | Anti-Doping & SafeSport | Gender & Competition | Leadership Books | Parenting 5 Kids
I interviewed Norman Wain | General Counsel, Chief of Business Affairs at USA Track & Field on Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021.
We started the episode with Norm sharing how he first realized his passion for sports could translate to his work while in law school. We discussed how he landed an internship with the MLS to his first paying position as a lawyer and the unique journey to his current General Counsel role. He shared the transition to working for a publicly traded company and his approach to always be learning and growing. He shared the importance of networking, how it led to his first General Counsel role, and networking tips for new lawyers. We discussed the history of professional soccer in the United States. We discussed what USA Track & Field does and their sources of revenue. We spoke about current sports topics such as anti-doping, safesport, and gender when it comes to competing in sports. Norm then shared how he builds culture, how he defines leadership, and he provided tips for public speaking. Norm provided his recommended leadership books and wrapped up the conversation by speaking about how he and his wife parent five kids from toddler age to teenager.
Here are some highlights of my interview with Norm Wain:
Sports are really about an experience, which makes it unique. Monetizing the business of sports was something that was always interesting to me.
I learned a lot about litigation, the process, working with entities, and decided it was counter to everything I wanted to do. I knew I needed to make a break at that point.
It was one of those fork in the road decisions that you have to make in life and I decided that my life would be better with my wife and I began exploring opportunities in the Midwest.
While at The Finish Line, I got my training for being a corporate generalist, which was critical to my sports career because I really was just learning a lot about the different areas of corporate business (IP, real estate, etc.).
I kept that sponge mentality that I knew there was a lot I didn’t know. I’m always looking to learn and as I worked with outside counsel, I developed relationships and began to figure out what I was good at and where I could use help.
I’m a big preacher of preventative legal. It’s good in the sense that it creates smooth sailing, but it gets a little problematic when it comes time to justify your worth.
Start cultivating your network, start doing some of the things that you’re going to need to do later on. Put a conscious focus on developing that network, and continuing the dialogue.
SafeSport has completely changed the way that youth sports are administered, and the way athletes are treated throughout the Olympic movement, which is important and needed to be done.
When speaking at an event, I want to speak from the heart with passion on the topic as well as it resonates with people. If I’m approached to speak on something that I can’t speak that way about, I will turn down the opportunity.
You’ve got to lead the team that you have. How you get the best out of everybody is central to that definition of leadership.
Links referred to in this episode:
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Greetings, friends. This is Chris Batz, your host of The Law Firm Leadership Podcast. In today’s episode, I spoke with an attorney who loves being at the crossroads of sports and business. We discussed his journey to becoming General Counsel of first, a specialty sports retailer, and now GC of a national sports organization. We discussed his leadership approach, current issues in sports, advice for attorneys wanting to land a role in the sports industry, and so much more.
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You’re listening to Episode 53 of The Law Firm Leadership Podcast.
Chris: Welcome to The Law Firm Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Chris Batz, with The Lion Group. Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Norm Wain, General Counsel and Chief of Business Affairs for USA Track and Field in Indianapolis. USA Track and Field is the national governing body for the sport of track and field, long-distance running, and racewalking. In the United States, Norm’s responsibilities include managing all business and legal affairs for the organization. Prior to Norm joining USA Track and Field, he was the Vice President of Corporate Legal Affairs at The Finish Line, a US billion dollar publicly traded athletic specialty retailer where he was responsible for the legal department. He’s also worked in the business and legal affairs department at Writers and Artists Agency, a prestigious LA Talent Agency later purchased by Paradigm. He is a member of the board of the Sports Lawyers Association. Norm is also an adjunct professor at Indiana University where he teaches a sports law course. He has spoken at both domestic and international conferences and seminars on many sports law-related topics. Norm received his undergrad from the University of California Berkeley, and his law degree from Pepperdine.
Welcome, Norm, to The Law Firm Leadership Podcast. It’s great to have you on the show.
Norm: Thank you, Chris. I’m really appreciative and honored to be here.
The Business of Sports
Chris: Norm, you’ve got an exciting story of your journey in sports and law. Was it always your intention to be in the business of sports or did that evolve in law school?
Norm: It was definitely always my intention to be in the business of sports. I remember thinking long and hard right after my 1L year because law school is a lot of work as your listeners know. It’s not the most fun experience, but there’s a benefit to the way that they train you to think like a lawyer and the process of doing the work. So, I thought about the big investment financially, the big investment of time, and wanted to make sure that when I finished, I was doing something I was passionate about. To me, it was more important to have a career and a job that I was passionate about than to have financial success. I knew that I was going to finish law school because I finish what I start. Also, I was going to use it as a key to open doors, depending on which professional path I ended up ultimately pursuing. That was my approach coming out of law school.
I’m a soccer fanatic. My parents were born and raised in South America in Argentina. I grew up with barbecues and soccer games since I was really little and that summer after 1L, I reached out to what was professional soccer in Southern California. At the time, this was pre-Major League Soccer, so, I’m dating myself here, but I reached out to the general manager there, a gentleman named Rick Davis. He played on the New York Cosmos with Pelé, Beckenbauer, Kanaya, and all these great soccer players. He was a general manager of a team called the LA Salsa. I graduated from Berkeley and reached out to him while I was in law school and told him I was willing to do whatever it took to work for him. I was willing to work for nothing. He was really appreciative and let me do just about any task that needed doing. So, I was filling the coolers for the referee at halftime, I was preparing things pregame, I was up in the press box or I sat with him on the bench. I did marketing stuff and we did surveys to figure out the best game times to promote the sport and the events that were taking place. That really gave me an inside look, early in my career, on how the business of sport is monetized, what that product is, etc. Sport, in and of itself is unique because you’re selling an experience. We can both go to a baseball game, and it’s a 1-0 pitchers’ duel. You might think it’s amazing to see how those pitchers are throwing. I might be yawning and bored beyond belief because nobody is scoring runs. So, sport is really about an experience, which makes it unique. Monetizing the business of sport was something that was always interesting to me, and that was the start. From there, I was able to land at MLS before their inaugural season, and I was thrilled as heck to be there. I was one of their first interns. I was in early, stayed late, and did just about anything and everything they asked me to do. I absorbed as much as I could while learning to understand the business side of what they were trying to do to promote the sport.
Finding Work that Fit His Passion
Chris: When the internship wrapped up at MLS, what were your next steps to land a paying job?
Norm: I stayed through the inaugural season and went to the final in Boston which took place during a monsoon. Coming out of that, I was hoping that I would have an opportunity to work with the organization after graduating from law school and so I knocked on the door of the commissioner and asked if I could have a job. They were in the process of relocating from Los Angeles to New York. His response was, “Well, listen, there are only two things in life that are for certain, death and taxes, but I’m pretty sure that we will have a job for you.” I needed to clarify if “pretty sure” meant that I shouldn’t look for another job while studying for the bar exam. He laughed and ushered me out of the office and that was it. I prepared for the bar that summer but continued reaching back out to them beyond that and never heard back at that point in time. He did connect me with the general manager of the Los Angeles Galaxy, because I was in LA, and they did offer me a position within their front office in public relations. I was coming out of law school with over $100K in debt, so taking a job that paid $28,000-$30,000 a year wasn’t going to be financially feasible, plus it wasn’t a legal role. I was stranded at that point so did what everyone does and scoured the paper to find a job. I landed in a litigation boutique in Santa Monica that did a lot of medical malpractice litigation for the universities in that area. I learned a lot about litigation, the process, working with entities, and decided it was counter to everything I wanted to do. I knew I needed to make a break at that point.
Exploring Entertainment & Sports
I coached soccer when I was in law school and a couple of the parents I knew had started a video production company. It was direct-to-consumer VHS tapes so I’m going to date myself a bit again. So, they would be at the warehouse or Sam Goody’s where you could rent videos, and at the front, they would have $20 videos where you could get the stories of some of the US national team soccer players, like Cobi Jones. They did direct-to-consumer productions and asked if I could help them with the formation of an LLC. I was just out of law school and hadn’t done it before, but answered the way every lawyer would answer and said, “Sure, I can do that. Absolutely.” So, I put that together for them and helped with their rights clearances and other things like that. Then, I got a call from a producer at Fox Sports that was working on a documentary for the World Cup and he needed help to clear rights, which I had just done for Big Shot Films. I stepped into that role, and we worked on putting together these World Cup preview shows for Fox Sports World, which later became Fox Soccer Channel. He introduced me to the woman who headed Business Affairs at the talent agency, Writers and Artists. I then worked at the talent agency for two years even though I didn’t want to be in entertainment law, per se. But the opportunity to stay in entertainment and sports was important to me as it was doing something I was passionate about. I worked there for a couple of years and a weird thing started to happen. Towards the end of my tenure there, we started taking meetings with athletes and their agents who were looking to crossover from sports to entertainment. Right around the time, Troy Aikman appeared on Coach. We were taking meetings from athletes who wanted to be on TV shows like Saved by the Bell and others. We were working with the talent side to integrate that. The integration of sports and entertainment was really great. Those are the early days of my career. I met my wife at that point and made a dramatic turn by moving to the Midwest to work for a company called The Finish Line, which was a publicly traded athletic retailer at the time.
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Chris: Share about how that opportunity came up to work for The Finish Line.
Norm: Right after we completed our second pilot season, which went from January to May, I met my wife the following summer. She was from the Midwest, and we were starting to progress as a couple, so we needed to figure things out like where we were going to live and things like that. It was important for her that she remained close to her family in the Midwest. I liken the decision to move to the Midwest to the Nicolas Cage movie called The Family Man.
It was one of those fork in the road decisions that you have to make in life and I decided that my life would be better with her than without her. I began exploring my opportunities in the Midwest and was fortunate to get the job with Finish Line, which is an athletic specialty retailer. They had gone public fairly recently and were transitioning from a mom and pop organization that was growing really big, really fast to now being publicly traded and having all of these additional layers of regulation on them as they grew. The business units each had their own strategies. I jumped in as a lawyer and asked what they wanted to accomplish in real estate, how I could help from a legal perspective, or what their goals for e-commerce were. It was there that I got my training for being a corporate generalist, which was critical to my sports career because I really was just learning a lot about the different areas of corporate business (IP, real estate, etc.) and their goals.
Chris: Did they give you the role of General Counsel immediately or did you grow into that?
Norm: No. I started as an Assistant Counsel and then progressed up the ladder from there.
Chris: You weren’t formally trained in a law firm in public company securities law. Is that something that you learned as you were going?
Norm: The General Counsel was the one who hired me into that organization. But to your point, I was learning it. I kept that sponge mentality that I knew there was a lot I didn’t know. I’m always looking to learn and as I worked with outside counsel, I developed relationships and began to figure out what I was good at and where I could use help. When I got help from some of the best in the industry, I took the time and opportunity to learn. I went to conferences and continued to develop my skill set.
Chris: What was your role at The Finish Line?
Norm: I was the VP of Corporate Legal Affairs. The role grew as my boss grew. He later transitioned into the CIO role, which opened up a lot more legal responsibilities for me within the legal department.
Chris: During your time at Finish Line, retail was hit pretty hard. What were some of the challenges you had as they grew so quickly within the real estate world, and doing the business of retail sports?
Norm: To your point, there were a lot of things that were happening throughout that time. In general, retail is pretty cyclical. I don’t know what commercial retail looks like now in this post-COVID, apocalyptic world that we’re living in, but at the time, retail traffic in malls was big. We were beneficiaries of a spat that took place between Footlocker and Nike, that created opportunities. We acquired a company and developed a business on the urban retail side and we also tried to launch a women’s only athletic boutique. We were in the process of acquiring a different organization, though that deal did not end up going through. That all created a lot of legal exposure and issues. There were a lot of challenges along the way, but again, it’s about increasing foot traffic, developing a brand, and brand loyalty. These are things that you need in order to be successful in that space.
Chris: What was it like being a part of a public company while most of your prior ventures were private?
Norm: I always try to go in and see the benefits and the positives. There was a lot to learn in different areas like shareholder meetings, investor calls, Sarbanes-Oxley, etc. We were making sure that everything that was done was needed to be compliant. I also come with the mindset of being proactive and trying to foresee issues before they arrived. I’m a big preacher of preventative legal. It’s good in the sense that it creates smooth sailing, but it gets a little problematic when it comes time to justify your worth and what you’re bringing to an organization.
Networking to Open the Door
Chris: How did the USA Track and Field role come to you?
Norm: The story begins with the Major League Soccer commissioner (Rick Davis) whose door I knocked on in my previous story. Since then, he became the CEO of USA Track and Field. When I learned that there might be an opportunity with USA Track and Field to get directly back into sports and entertainment, I worked my network. The goal was to facilitate a meeting with him to have that discussion and reminisce about soccer and everything that had transpired in the 15 years or so since I was an intern there. We ended up meeting and chatting at what I would call a Lakers game, but most of the people in Indiana would call a Pacers game. He indicated that he was looking to make a change within his legal department and was looking for somebody with a very heavy business mindset to help elevate the profile of the sport and to start trying to execute some of the vision he had in terms of strategy and success. It was a good conversation. I jokingly made a comment about the statute of limitations on a job offer. And when the opportunity presented itself, I became the General Counsel and Chief of Business Affairs for USA Track and Field.
US Soccer History
Chris: Let’s riff on two different topics. What’s your opinion about the progression of MLS soccer in the United States? And do you think we’re going to become the next premier country, similar to what Europe’s doing?
Norm: The business model of Major League Soccer is different, so you have to look at the roots of that single entity structure that sprung forth the league. Soccer had failed commercially in the United States. Before MLS, there was the NASL, and there were other leagues prior to that. It failed to thrive within the United States. MLS had a lot of lawyers within their senior leadership, and there was a joke that MLS stood for Mostly Lawyer Soccer. The approach they did is different from the single entity that controls costs and having investor operators. MLS’ free agents weren’t negotiating with individual teams. They were negotiating with the league, and the league had the allocations for the different teams. That was the crux of the single entity structure. It was built based on the antitrust legal decisions that were in the Supreme Court in other sports cases that were being litigated before them in terms of how leagues and entities survived antitrust scrutiny. They used that methodology to create the single entity structure for the league. They have gone from 10 teams to close to 30. They’ve got their soccer-specific stadiums. They’ve got a thriving business model. They’ve got their television deals that are coming through. Their attendance numbers are really good. There’s a lot to be excited about in terms of the viability of soccer, and it’s growing in terms of participation numbers within the United States. I think soccer has got a very bright future here. It’s working its way into the upper echelon of the United States in terms of top sports, but I don’t know if they have the same goal to be bigger than LaLiga or something like that. I’ve read that they’ve had discussions with other countries, like Mexico and Canada, about creating a similar structure to Europe so that they can compete, dollar-wise, with the contracts that are taking place in Europe. It’ll be interesting to see how they develop that business. The good news for them right now is that they continue to be a thriving sports property, and the numbers are trending in the right direction.
Networking Tips for New Lawyers
Chris: You mentioned the importance of your network in landing the role with USA Track and Field. What advice would you give lawyers or law students who want to get into the business of sports?
Norm: Your network, as you know, is incredibly important. I don’t feel like law students value it in the way that they probably would/should. When I talk to law students and speak at law schools, that is one of the things I start with. My parents were immigrants into this country, and they didn’t know anybody, and neither did I. For a while, I kept a lot of the rejection letters and stuff that I had written throughout trying to get some of these legal jobs with professional sports teams. The crux of it is that you want to be able to have that network and you want to know people in sports. The Sports Lawyers Association does a great job of putting on an annual conference (COVID aside) which is literally a who’s who and so if you’re interested in sports and you’re in law school, make sure you attend that conference. It starts the process of meeting people. Lawyers love talking about themselves. We’re filling up a podcast here, and I haven’t taken a breath yet. So I encourage law students to do informational interviews while they’re in law school. Start cultivating their network, start doing some of the things that they’re going to need to have later on. You spend tens or hundreds of 1000s of dollars on your education, but I advise them to have a slush fund budget of money to buy people coffee and lunches just to hear their story and start making those connections. Definitely put a conscious focus on developing that network, and continuing the dialogue. I look forward to conferences where I get to meet people. When I haven’t seen people I’m connected with in a while, I’ll send an occasional email or text to check in. When the opportunity arises, and there’s an opening in their organization, that’s where you want to be able to lean on that contact and ask about the opening and if there is any information they can provide you. Many students think they’re constantly being asked for jobs but it’s how you stay top of mind. Keep in mind that 99% of the time, the answer is no, but it’s worth it to reach out.
The World of USA Track & Field
Chris: Norm, let’s go back to this role that you have currently. Explain to my listeners what USA Track and Field does and what your role looks like with both the business and legal functions.
Norm: USA Track and Field is the national governing body for the sport, so it’s like the National Federation if you will. Think of it as a pyramid. We do everything from the millions of runners that are weekend warriors on the grassroots side, all the way to the top of the pyramid, which are the elite athletes that compete in World Championships and the Olympic Games. It encompasses masters and it encompasses youth. We’ve got all these demographics and programs that all feel part of it. A few years ago we ran a campaign called “We are USATF” because it encompasses so many different individuals and perspectives in the sport. As the GC, my role covers transactional work, intellectual property work, risk management, safe sport compliance, the agent program, the anti-doping program, trans eligibility issues, and the P1 visas to get international athletes here for events or to come and train. We deal with issues that have gotten complicated over the last couple of years. We also do work in grievance monitoring within corporate governance, which is an area that I’ve spent a lot of time and focus on. My role also focuses on corporate governance. There has been a lot in the papers in terms of how organizations have been either properly or improperly governing themselves. This is on the heels of IOC issues from several years ago and corruption issues with our international federation or with FIFA. Governance in the sports world is a very big topic. I’ve been fortunate to have been selected on the governance committee for our international federation, which is World Athletics. They have a commitment to be a preeminent organization when it comes to governance, just like USA Track and Field does. We work to figure out what best practices are and how to be leaders in that. I’ve been fortunate to be on their governance commission as they’re working through their constitution and some of the other issues there.
Chris: Where does the revenue come from?
Norm: It comes from various sources. Revenue comes through key sources like sponsorship, membership, sanctioning events, coaching education, and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) when it comes to funding for our elite athlete programs. There are a lot of different areas that contribute to our overall revenue.
Anti-Doping and SafeSport
Chris: You mentioned newsworthy and sensitive subjects such as anti-doping and safe sport. Could you share more about those two?
Norm: Doping has been something that has plagued the sport for the longest time. We make sure we walk the line between compliance and creating a clean sport for athletes to compete in by working with the US Anti-Doping Agency. Our athletes are negatively affected when people are not abiding by the rules and doing things to skirt the rules. That has been an area replete with issues over the years as a safe sport. You referenced the news that came out about gymnastics within the last couple of years. It has spawned congressional inquiries and changes in federal legislation. It has completely changed the way that youth sports are administered, and the way athletes are treated throughout the Olympic movement, which is important and needed to be done. So, again, we’re trying to be ahead of the curve and trying to make sure we’re in line with best practices to be leaders in the industry.
Competition and Gender
Chris: I know gender has been something that’s been pretty intensely coming up, especially in the Olympics. Are you facing that?
Norm: It’s front and center in our sport, as we’ve had to deal with some of those issues. I’ve been in some of those meetings where you’re really contemplating what the definition of gender is. Is it anatomy? Is it hormones? Is it chromosomes? All of those things come into play. If you have somebody who has a Y chromosome, but female anatomy is that a male or a female man?
Chris: I don’t envy being in your shoes right now. It is quite a challenge.
Norm: That’s totally independent of some of the social issues that deal with identification, in terms of how individuals are identifying gender-wise, which adds another wrinkle to that analysis. It is challenging. It causes you to question a lot of things and it’s all being sorted out. There are cases that have been arbitrated here that have tried to tackle those very issues. Our international federation tried to come out with rules in those particular situations. It’s why I referenced where a female athlete has a Y chromosome, but yet is female, but her hormone levels range in the male category and outside the spectrum of what someone would define as female. If you want to compete in certain events, where we have empirical scientific evidence to show that you would gain a little bit of an advantage because of testosterone, then the international federation said you may need hormone suppression to get yourself in the accepted range to compete. The athletes could respond that they don’t feel comfortable doing that. These are complicated issues that continue to evolve as we continue to confront them.
Leadership and Culture Building
Chris: Let’s pivot. You’ve been called a builder of culture. Please share how you go about that in an organization.
Norm: I appreciate the question because it’s really important that organizationally there’s alignment. There needs to be clarity of vision in terms of what we’re doing as an organization. Are we staying true to our mission statement? What is the role of each stakeholder within the organization or within the strategic plan, and how do they do that? Part one of leadership is vision and clarity.
Part two is how you motivate and get people energized and focused so that they’re performing at their best, and they’re involved. It’s about collaborating and team building. We want to be on the same page. We need to encourage diversity of thought with people that challenge the direction you’re going in a respectful way. That forces you to defend the position that you’re bringing up. When you, as a leader, defend your business decisions, it leads to more conviction in following through with those things which helps people get more invested. In terms of culture, create a work environment where hard work, dedication, humility, and work ethic are valued. You want to be hard on the work but soft on the people. You want to be human and know who you’re working with, what motivates them, and what makes them tick. Make sure that you’re aligned in terms of why you’re all here.
Using Analytics in Decision Making
Chris: How do you use analytics when you do that?
Norm: In a lot of different ways. From a straight legal perspective, I can recall a time at Finish Line where we did analytics on all the types of litigation claims that we had. We started to see a trend in uptake on ladder safety issues. So, we looked at these cases and how much it costs to defend them and then needed to get our CEO excited about ladder safety. Ladder Safety is a yawn that gets you ushered out of the room, but if you come in very analytics-focused and share that ladder safety claims cost us $50,000 to $90,000 to defend, it changes the conversation. It shifts to how much we need to generate in top-line sales in order to have that $50K to $90K to spend on defending this type of claim. So, now, if we’ve reduced it by 30% or x number of claims, it’s a benefit to the company to use less money from top-line sales for this expense. That approach gets a little bit more attention. So, we’ve looked at it from a litigation perspective, and many GCs talk about the way that they use analytics to manage their total legal spend, in terms of the law firms that they use and how much it costs to do that. We did things where we were consolidating some of the discovery for different types of cases. If you had one law firm that knows how to fill those out more efficiently, let them run with it. As a GC, your role is to run that particular business unit as effectively and as efficiently as possible. So, you’re trying to drive that number as close to zero as you can without hindering the business’s ability to generate revenue.
Public Speaking Tips
Chris: Norm, you’ve been invited domestically and internationally to speak. What’s some advice that you could give to folks who could be invited to speak at these events?
Norm: A lot of times, I was opening with this joke where I would take my cell phone camera out, and take a picture of the audience. I would make the joke that nobody at home really cares about what I have to say, but I take the photo to show that people in the world care about what I say and do. To your point, being prepared is first and foremost. If I get blessed to get an opportunity to speak at a conference where I can share my perspective and insights on a particular topic, I make sure that I take the time to prepare. I think about the points that I will convey and how I’ll back that up. I want to speak from the heart with passion on the topic as well as it resonates with people. If I’m approached to speak on something that I can’t speak that way about, I will turn down the opportunity. I’ve tried to focus on areas where we’ve had leadership positions. When our agent program was preeminent in the movement, I got to speak a lot about that. I go in there expecting to learn as much as I’m contributing. You hear the perspective of other speakers and you try to get together for a drink or dinner to learn from their side of it because I never feel like I know enough. I’m always looking to gain more information. Those are the key takeaways I would share on this subject.
Energize your Team to Foster Success
Chris: Norm, how do you define leadership?
Norm: I would define leadership in terms of energizing a group to accomplish a particular objective. It’s leadership, not just by words, but by actions. It’s creating the right culture that fosters the success that you’re trying to accomplish. You can read books about leaders that can have really great ideas, but that doesn’t always translate into execution or the way that they interact with individuals. There are a lot of components both on the hard skill side and on the soft skill side that you’ve got to continue to develop. Early in my career, I remember attending a seminar on negotiation and how it’s a craft or a skill you have to continue to work on. I feel the same way about leadership. It’s a skill you’ve got to continue to work on because the workforce is evolving. The approach that people take is very different now. It would be great to lead the A-team onto battle every time, but sometimes you don’t have the A-team. You’ve got to lead the team that you have. How you get the best out of everybody on that unit is central to that definition of leadership.
Never Stop Learning
Chris: Norm, who have been examples of leadership for you?
Norm: I won’t start naming them off the top of my head here because I fear leaving someone out. There have been a lot of folks along the way that I’ve tried to glean from. It’s important to surround yourself with people who are really smart, really motivated, and have unique experiences where you can continue to ideate with them and learn and grow. You want people who will push you to grow. I’ve gotten to where I am by allowing myself to get pushed. I never feel like I’m an expert on anything. It’s flattering to be called preeminent in a certain space, but I always want to be learning. For a sports example, you’ve got a guy like Tom Brady who wins seven Super Bowls and wakes up the next morning and starts talking about what’s needed to improve the team for next year. That’s been the same mindset I have that what we’ve accomplished is great but what can we do to continue improving? If you see something that you think I need to improve on then tell me. I want constructive feedback.
Leadership Book Recommendations
Chris: What books would you recommend to my listeners?
Norm: I have books that philosophically represent a lot of my true core beliefs. These are old school books because, with five kids, it’s been a while since I’ve had a lot of reading flexibility. Pat Riley wrote a book called The Winner Within which I thought was really good. Rick Pitino wrote a book called Success is a Choice that I also really enjoyed. Stephen Covey has written a lot of good books, which I would recommend. There’s a book called The Oz Principle that talks about how to conduct yourself within corporate settings, how to be accountable, and how to stay focused. Another book was Crucial Conversations. The First 90 Days teaches a new leader how to transition into a role, the things they need to be trying to improve and learn and how to get up to speed and gain key alliances within an organization to effectuate good leadership.
Parenting 5 Kids
Chris: You have a family with five kids. What are the ages of your oldest and youngest?
Norm: My oldest is 17 and about to head off to college, while my youngest is three and hopefully about to head off to preschool.
Chris: I have a three-year-old too, so I understand the urgency to get them into preschool.
Norm: It. makes for awkward parent-teacher conference nights where you’re walking around with a toddler at the high school and everybody’s giving you those looks. You want to sit down and say, “This kid’s very gifted, but we’re not here to talk about him.”
Chris: Do you have strong opinions about where your kid should go to college?
Norm: I don’t. I’ve been very hands-off in that sense. I want them to go where it makes them happy. The advice that I continue to give to them is to pursue their passion. They don’t have to worry about anything else except focusing their educational pursuits on what it is that they’re going to be passionate about. I try to encourage them that if they’re passionate about something and willing to work hard at it, the chances are that they’ll be successful.
We bring some lightheartedness to it by doing a Shark Tank type approach. They have to make their pitch to my wife and me. We ask them why they want to choose x over y, etc. They then justify it. We talk about it, not in a critical manner, but they really have to defend their position. We ask them questions. Why do you want to go to this out-of-state school? Why should we be paying out-of-state tuition? What’s going to be the benefit of that? How will this school be different from this other school? Again, not from a critical perspective, because in the end, we’re going to be supportive of what they want to pursue. But this forces them to think through if it’s really what they want to do and if it makes sense in the grand scheme of things.
Chris: So you have no strong opinion for IU, Purdue, Notre Dame, etc.?
Norm: I grew up in Southern California, so I have a left-coast bias. I’m an adjunct professor at IU, and each of the schools you mentioned are really good schools that have different specialties within them. My son is considering one of them because the major fits with what he’s looking to pursue and is highly reputable. That’s something that he’s considering, but he’s not getting any push from us in terms of where to go.
Dallas Cowboys Quarterback
Chris: Norm, last question, what team would you have wanted to be a professional player on and what position?
Norm: That’s an easy question. I played soccer, as I told you to, but if I was going to honestly answer your question that would be the quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. It’s America’s team. I grew up a Cowboys fan, and those players that did well for them tend to be pretty successful individuals like Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, or even Tony Romo, in the booth. You could do a lot worse than that role.
Chris: Norm, it’s been an honor and a pleasure today. Thank you for your time.
Norm: Thank you so much, again, for having me. I really appreciate it.
Thank you to everyone who listened to this episode of The Law Firm Leadership Podcast.