From Law to Business

From Law to Business: Making the Leap

For many Law School graduates who ultimately seek a career in business, the jump from law to business may be as serendipitous as it is life-changing. Whether stimulated by an offer to work for a client, a move to a different city, or changes in an employer's structure, the opportunity to take a leadership role in a company can be an exciting challenge. Moreover, in a world where law plays an increasing role, many corporate boards see a J.D. degree as a significant asset for someone in the top spot.

Bruce Eben Pindyck '70, chairman, president, and CEO of Meridian Industries, attended Columbia Law and Business Schools. After graduation, he worked for a New York-based law firm while his wife finished at Columbia Law School. Having maintained an involvement with his wife's family business in Milwaukee, Mr. Pindyck, together with his wife, Mary Ellen '73, decided to purchase it. A few years later they moved back to Milwaukee and he has been running Meridian since 1984.

"I've always been someone who has had an interest in and I think aptitude for running organizations, and I thought that I could run Meridian effectively," he says. "What the family used to do in a year, we now do in a day."

The Pindycks have grown Meridian Industries from one to five companies, each one a market leader, manufacturing industrial products ranging from fabric-softener dryer sheets to material for athletic footwear to thermoplastic rubber tubing. The company has 23 plants in seven states.

As a CEO, Mr. Pindyck credits law school first and foremost with giving him the analytic tools to operate and manage his company. "Meridian has completed about 12 acquisitions, and we enter into very complicated contracts with large companies," he says. Meridian is confronted regularly with legal matters such as joint ventures and other arrangements with foreign companies, employment issues, and intellectual property matters. Although the company now farms out legal work, Mr. Pindyck still uses his legal training almost daily.

From General Counsel to CEO

"Like many people of my generation, law seemed like a good career opportunity, but I didn't really know what the possibilities were," says Donald Drakeman '79, president of Medarex, a publicly traded biotech company worth $1 billion.

Hired by a law firm, Mr. Drakemanówho also holds a Ph.D. in American religious historyówas focusing on mergers and acquisitions when he began to admire the jobs of the businesspeople with whom he was working. He set out to look for an opportunity that would ultimately lead to a business role.

"I thought going in-house would be the right next step," he says.

Mr. Drakeman went on to become general counsel at Essex Chemical Corporation. When Essex began to seek opportunities in biotechnology, he brought in the expertise of an old roommate who was a medical professoróand soon he was put in charge of the new effort, which became Medarex.

In 1987, Mr. Drakeman jokes, he got to see an M&A up close when Essex was the victim of a hostile takeover and was sold to Dow Chemical. Dow did not want to keep Medarex, so he and several other founders acquired the company. Suddenly, he was a full-time businessman.

Medarex, whose researchers focus on creating human antibodies to fight cancer and other diseases, has two dozen new treatments in the pipeline for human testing.

"It was nearly a seven-year process from becoming GC at Essex to realizing my goal of reaching a business position," says Mr. Drakeman, "The opportunities to make the transition are probably fewer than you imagine. Try to be exposed to people who might hire you, and if a chance appears, you should think hard about taking it."

Investing in Education

Like Donald Drakeman, who credits law school with helping him navigate complex pharmaceutical regulatory systems, Michael Connelly '75 uses his legal education every day in dealing with a complex educational system.

Mr. Connelly, CEO of Mosaica Education, was not sure of the type of career he wanted, but he viewed Columbia as a passport to a career in business, law, politics, or journalism. After graduation, the St. Louis native practiced for seven years as a litigator. When an executive with one of his firm's clients, a private equity investment company, left to start his own firm, Mr. Connelly was asked to come on board as executive vice president. He jumped at the chance.

From there, Mr. Connelly started a private equity investment business. Through investing in several education companies, he forged a relationship with the founders of Mosaica, now one of the nation's major operators of charter schools. He was hired to be president and CEO in 1998.

Mr. Connelly was no stranger to the world of education: He had been a math teacher before law school and had been tapped by Professor Albert Rosenthal to help run a summer-jobs program for inner-city high school students. Moreover, he has four children of his own.

Mosaica's growth has surprised even its CEO: In 1998, it had 300 students and less than $2 million in revenue. Today, it operates 70 schools serving 14,000 students and generates about $125 million in revenue. Named by Inc. magazine as the fastest growing urban business in the United States over the previous five years, Mosaica is the only company of its kind with a proprietary curriculum.

Says Mr. Connelly, "Education is one of the most heavily regulated industries in America and also one of the most political. Having the legal background to analyze the issues at hand is very important. Columbia taught all of us to challenge accepted wisdom and to focus on appropriate decision-making factors. If you run a business, especially one as complicated as the private management of education within a public system, you need that disciplined approach."

Paving the Way to a Critical Job

Greer Arthur '60 chose law as opposed to business school because his father, a successful executive with Kinney Shoes, had no business education prior to his career. The same approach has proven right for Mr. Arthur, who, at one time, owned one of the world's largest ocean-container-rental companies with offices and hundreds of depots around the world. How he got there is a tale of opportunities seized.

After working for a short time in a small law firm, Mr. Arthur landed a job offer at a friend's consulting firmóbased on nothing more than his Columbia law degree and part-time jobs selling shoes in Kinney stores. He immediately parlayed that offer into an interview with McKinsey and Company, the most respected management consulting firm in the world. After five days of testing and interviews with McKinsey, he was offered a job.

"Although I wasn't sure of what I was doing, I decided they must know what they were doing, so I joined McKinsey and it changed my life," he says.

Mr. Arthur stayed on for five years, always with an eye to working overseas. A McKinsey client, Scoville Manufacturing Co., which owned Hamilton Beach, hired him and sent him to Paris on a 10-month assignment. Upon his return, he was recruited by former McKinsey colleagues who had gone to the West Coast to start a company that would soon become involved in the new maritime-container business.

At the time, the company had 600 of the world's 15,000 such containers. Mr. Arthur helped to build up his employer's capacity to 30,000 and, in 1974, he started his own company, Trans Ocean Ltd., which quickly grew to 30,000 containers as well. Looking ahead, Mr. Arthur saw that compe- tition was becoming more intense, and he set the goal of making specialized containersórefrigerated, top-loading, liquid-transport, and flatsófor which there was a growing need. The strategy worked well, and by the late 1990s, Trans Ocean had grown to 500,000 containers. Mr. Arthur sold the company to Transamerica.

He continues to own TransOcean Distribution, a liquid-transportation company that moves thousands of containers, each carrying 6,500 gallons of products such as wine, petroleum products, chemicals, juice concentrates, latex, or other liquids. Following the 2004 tsunami in Asia, the company transported containers filled with water to villages left waterless.