South Florida Business Journal’s Ultimate CEO Q&A: John C. Sumberg on the importance of maintaining connections

South Florida Business Journal
Publication
August 20, 2021
Q: What do you know now about leadership that you didn’t know at the outset of the pandemic?

A: My big takeaway was the extent to which we are truly social beings and crave that interaction. For my whole life before the pandemic, I took that for granted. Intellectually, maybe I understood it. But when you couldn’t be with family who weren’t in town, your partners, others in the firm, there was a withdrawal. I learned the importance of creating the best interactions to maintain those connections.

Q: How have you changed as a leader?

A: Throughout the last 20 years as a leader, there’s been an evolution for me in terms of spending more time getting other people’s viewpoints and validating their views as a starting point for any discussion. In this remote atmosphere, that’s been even more important to making sure people feel included in the process.

Q: What’s your biggest takeaway from the pandemic?

A: The importance of personal contact and the need to be in touch with our lawyers, the staff, clients and friends and our families. We sell our services, but it’s all about relationships. The pandemic has caused us to rethink how to maintain and develop and initiate relationships when they cannot be in person. And it’s shown us the importance of doing it in person when you can.

Q: How has the region emerged from Covid?

A: The impact of the pandemic has been fascinating. When it began, I thought the economic and business sectors were going to crater. I underestimated the effect of government stimulus to prop us up. There were business winners and losers, and there were geographic winners and losers, especially since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which disallowed the deduction of state [income] taxes. The pandemic became the second punch of a one-two punch. It put a lot of people who had been thinking about moving here over the edge.

Q: What’s one thing you like most – and least – about leadership?

A: What I like most is the challenge of creating strategies for the firm and clients. I also like teaching and mentoring people, and watching them progress through their own careers. What I don’t like is that effective management takes a lot of time. I often find myself challenged by the lack of time I have to lead the firm, mentor people and work with clients. It’s a constant balancing act.

Q: How do you keep the flame glowing in your organization?

A: By replicating my feelings about the firm, making sure that people feel a sense of ownership, inclusion and investment in the firm. When issues and challenges arise, you need to have conversations with employees and constituents, and ensure people feel listened to. At the end of the day, people know somebody has to make a decision. They want to feel they were included in that process.

Q: What keeps you up nights?

A: That’s easy: the competition for talent. More and more national and global firms are entering our market. It’s increasingly competitive to attract talent. We also care a lot about diversity. When we care about diversity, we communicate better with our clients. That’s incredibly important.
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John C. Sumberg
Chairman
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