Chris Brearton (BBA ’92) has been recognized as one of the leading entertainment and sports lawyers in the country. As a partner at Latham & Watkins, he represents clients like the International Olympic Committee and MGM. A former collegiate swimmer for UGA and certified public accountant with KPMG in Los Angeles, the Tull School graduate fielded questions at a Terry Leadership Speaker Series event about his failures at networking, why teamwork matters, and the single best lesson he learned at UGA.
Excerpts of that discussion are captured below.
“Probably one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made is not focusing on networking at all, then focusing on it inappropriately. I have a mantra that is ‘Swim your own race.’ And that is important. You need to worry about yourself. You need to worry about your own career because nobody is going to do it for you. You need to think about what is the right thing and not be afraid to ask for it.
“At the same time, building a network of people that you know and trust is important because life is a long journey. What I did very poorly was that for the first 10 years of my professional life I didn’t network at all … Then when I finally started networking, as a second-year lawyer, I was trying to build relationships with senior managers at Goldman Sachs and CEOs. What I should’ve been doing was trying to build relationships with my peers. What I tell people when they come to our law firm is that you’re not trying to get business from your buddy today. But when your buddy is the COO, you’re going to be a partner. You don’t need to think, ‘I’m going to network today.’ Just get to know people, be a good person and try to build a personal relationship.
“One of the things I do now is that when I get to know people I find out something about them. Sports and entertainment lends itself to people’s favorite movie or favorite actor or favorite team, and I try to keep that in mind. So when I see something happen with a team or a movie that someone likes, I’ll shoot them a text and say, ‘Hey, I saw a good win last night.’ Little things like that tend to build a relationship so that when there is an issue, when there is a reason to reach out, you already have a personal relationship and it hasn’t been five years since you’ve spoken.”
What Terry taught him
“There’s one thing that really resonates with me. I don’t remember the class or the professor. But I do remember it was a team experience. I was a classic Type A, straight-arrow student, and this was an experience where I had to work together as a group. I remember thinking, when I was assigned my team, that I was very upset with the configuration. I didn’t think my group members were some of the stronger students in the class. I was a little bewildered. I was worried about my grade and that I’d have to do all the work.
“Then, midway through the project it clicked: This was the entire purpose of the project – to put people together who were different, who had different strengths, and it was up to the group to figure out how to maximize all of our different strengths for the collective benefit for our grade.
“It was really one of the life-changing academic experiences of my life because we did pull together, we did get an A. And now, 20 years later, what I’m doing on a day-to-day basis for clients is putting together a deal team to tackle very challenging transactions. These teams are made up different individuals with different skillsets, and, a lot of times, in different geographies. Pooling those talents together to have the proverbial ‘whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ is a lesson I really learned here in a workshop.”
“We have the most prolific practice in the country because we’re a team of 20. We’re not one or two people. We approach everything as a team. We approach client service as a team. If we have a new engagement, it may be that my expertise is not appropriate for this deal. Or it may be that my personality is not appropriate. Maybe the client is a really big car guy. One of my partners is a huge car guy. I don’t care about cars, but he loves them. So maybe the thing to do to galvanize that relationship is to put a different member of the team in the front position of that deal. I think that really is the key to our success. We are the consummate team.
“As an analogy, 19 out of 20 players of the Los Angeles Kings hockey team live in my little beach town. And the 20th guy lives in the next little beach town. Some of them rent houses together. They are not the best hockey players in the NHL, but they’ve won two out of the last three Stanley Cups because when you watch that team play, they literally never give up. There is so much chemistry among those people because they are a consummate team.
“You can’t just go up to somebody and say, ‘Let’s start a team and have chemistry.’ It has to develop over time through trust and experience. Good times and bad. People will fail. You’ve got to pick them up, teach them, and move on.”
The Terry Leadership Speaker Series presented by the Institute for Leadership Advancement brings well-known leaders from a variety of organizations to the college. In these student-oriented forums, leaders are asked to discuss their unique leadership styles and experiences.
The next TLSS speaker will be Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot and owner of the Atlanta Falcons, who will speak at 10: 10 a.m. March 27 in the UGA Chapel.