Name: Jonathan Blair
Position: Co-chair and UK managing partner
Firm: Womble Bond Dickinson
Trained at: Wragge & Co
In Hot 100 for: Leading Bond Dickinson into a major US merger. Read his full Hot 100 profile.
What’s your most vivid memory from being a trainee?
I did my training at Wragges in Birmingham in the late 1980s and as a young trainee the culture felt very exciting and dynamic. This was pre-recession and it felt like the UK was booming. We worked very hard and played hard too and Quentin Poole, who at the time was a litigation partner, used to hold court at the bar of a local hotel on a Friday afternoon (it can’t have been every Friday but it is in my memory) and I remember thinking just how exotic it all was – this was the 80s remember! Great team building…
Who has been the most influential person in your career? Why, and how have they helped you?
I’ve been very fortunate to have had a number of supporters and mentors over the years but without doubt the people who have always been there for me and who, when I was at school and then at university, were right alongside me were my mum and dad.
My dad’s parents were farmers in Northumberland and had a tough life, certainly compared to today’s standards. My dad and his brother were the first in their family to go to university and dad has an incredible work ethic which he instilled into me. My mum was this incredibly gentle and supportive person, and in her eyes all of her four children could no wrong. She would have been proud of us whatever we had chosen to do and so the combination of the two instilled in me a strong work ethic and a strong sense of understanding that there are many different ways to achieve and no one way is any better or worse than the other. Just different.
What was the best career decision you ever made, and why?
I was sorry to leave Wragges, they were a great firm and were on a real roll in the 80s, but without doubt the best decision I made was to join what was then Dickinson Dees in Newcastle. It was different, and at that time the firm was going through some very big changes and had only just appointed its first managing partner, Graham Wright.
Robert Dickinson, the then senior partner was an incredibly impressive individual and a strong leader and, building on those foundations, the business has been able to evolve into the law firm we are today.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the job you do?
Take each stage as it comes. There is always a logical next step and make sure you understand when that step should be taken – both for the business and for you personally. Gather information before you make a decision but don’t make the mistake of gathering more and more information and not actually making a decision.
You will have some setbacks but don’t be too down-heartened by these, ultimately they do make you stronger. Remember those who support you along the way and don’t lose sight of where you started from and where it all began. Above all, work hard.
What work or career-related project or activity would you really like to do, but don’t have time for?
On a personal level, business has always been what I have been interested in (that was why I practiced in the insolvency field when I was a fee earner) and without doubt the best business leadership course I have ever attended was Harvard Business School’s “Leading Professional Service Firms” . It was a short course, only six days or so, and is a mini professional services – focused business course.
Had time allowed I would have liked to have done an MBA. I know MBAs can come in for a bit of stick but what I also know is my younger brother did one while still a civil engineer with Balfour Beatty in the early 90s and armed with his learning and the experience he then had he went on to set up HTC (mobile phone company) in Europe. I think all professional services businesses would benefit from more formal training.