The best part of this role was that I reported directly to Ed Parks, the firm’s managing partner. For several years, until the firm decided to hire a trained, experienced marketing professional to lead the charge, I had the privilege of learning from one of the best. Because we had such a long list of marketing issues to deal with, I was in Ed’s office a lot. I could tell so many cool stories, but in this post I want to share my personal recollection and observations of how he handled a very sensitive, potentially explosive issue.
Our firm had just merged with two accounting firms that doubled our size. One of the leaders of the other firms was given a very important, highly visible assignment related to the new, combined firm. This “new leader” would be reporting their findings and recommendations at an upcoming all-partner meeting. Again, because I was in Ed’s office frequently, I overheard that the project wasn’t going well and the “new leader” was missing the mark. Ed offered friendly advice, but the new leader believed the situation was under control.
The day of the all-partner meeting arrived and the new leader and the study team made their presentation and recommendations. As Ed had anticipated, it was a disaster. Many partners were quite upset and weren’t shy about sharing their feelings. Being a rookie partner, I sat there wondering what Ed would do. (Editorial comment: Actually, I don’t recall, before or after the meeting, ever discussing the potential for — and then the actual debacle that occurred — with Ed, who kept his thoughts to himself and modeled confidentiality.)
Ed is a very smart, suave, shrewd professional and I’m sure he anticipated the possibility of this atomic bomb. His reaction and behavior were so profound for me that I’m telling this story 35 years later. He knew that bringing the three firms together was Job One, and this incident had the potential to split us apart. The partners of the merged-in firms were watching this drama carefully and wondering how their former leader would be treated in this public meeting. I’m not sure how he did it, but Ed essentially took personal responsibility for the botched assignment and the related public criticism. By doing so, he protected the merged-in leader.
I’m guessing that on that day, when Ed fell on the grenade, all the new merged-in partners recommitted to making the merger successful — and the rest is history, as they say. I’m also guessing that besides me and a few other partners, no one knew of Ed’s heroic, sacrificial act.
Epilogue: As a young leader, I often reflected on Ed’s decision and wondered what would I do if confronted with a similar situation. To this day, I can’t recall having to face a similar challenge.