At The Table

The Art of Listening to – and Acting Upon – the Feedback We Receive

We recently sat down with David Levine, General Counsel of Bloomberg LP, to discuss his management style, what he looks for when hiring and the professional course he has been charting.

CCBJ: What led to your role at Bloomberg?

David Levine: A few weeks after starting my legal career at Willkie Farr in the Fall of 1999, I was assigned to work on a data licensing agreement for the firm’s biggest client – Bloomberg. At the time, Bloomberg outsourced a wide variety of its global legal needs to Willkie. I spent 12 years at Willkie as a corporate generalist, with a particular focus on technology transactions. I worked on many of Bloomberg’s most significant deals and matters, with regular exposure to the Company’s senior executives. Bloomberg senior management first approached me in 2010 about helping to build out the internal legal function. Those discussions intensified in 2011 and I ultimately became the General Counsel at the beginning of 2012. While I loved my experience at Willkie (and will forever be grateful for the training I received and friendships I developed, and for the firm electing me to the partnership), I knew how unique the Bloomberg opportunity was. I am a builder and entrepreneur as much as I am a lawyer, but I wasn’t exercising those skills as much at the firm. Joining Bloomberg with the specific challenge of creating something was ultimately an easy choice for me.

Tell us about your leadership style and who has influenced it.

While there are core leadership principles that matter to me (e.g., leading by example, showing humility, being inclusive, listening, evidencing fairness in decision-making), I firmly believe leadership styles need to evolve based on the changing needs of an organization. Leaders need to understand the personality of their organization, and the strengths and challenges at every level. They need to be present without being omnipresent or overbearing. The right level of engagement is so important.

Over the past few years, we’ve had significant growth in our department, especially in Europe. Successfully integrating a large number of colleagues requires setting clear expectations, inculcating values and a strong leadership presence. You need to make sure your teams work well together. While collaboration is important, leadership clarity around roles and responsibilities can be critical for colleagues working across teams, especially when a strong rapport has not yet been established.

At other times, your role as a leader is best served by stepping back and encouraging others to make decisions – developing talent for future leadership requires encouraging autonomy in decision-making. My role is often that of a sounding board, helping colleagues talk through ideas and difficult issues. If you hire well and develop talent, everything is so much easier.

My leadership style is strongly influenced by my parents. My mother is the most ethical and principled person I’ve ever met (effective leaders need to take a stand on what’s important); and my father is one of the most practical (effective leaders understand the importance of tangible goals and broad stakeholder support). They both worked for the New York City Board of Education and were dedicated teachers and administrators. We are always learning and teaching – you can’t be an effective leader without doing both every day. As a child of two teachers, I also have no problem projecting my voice!

In recent years, I’ve had the opportunity to observe our founder, Mike Bloomberg, and our Chairman, Peter Grauer. Among many positive leadership traits, you will see loyalty, supporting the underdog, giving back to society, and a lack of pretense or hierarchy.

Most importantly, I’ve learned to not try to be anyone else. Authenticity is so important. Embrace your quirks. And don’t be afraid to take chances and learn from your mistakes. And share those experiences with others so they can learn from them too. You figure out what leadership styles work best for you through experience.

Authenticity is so important. Embrace your quirks. And don’t be afraid to take chances and learn from your mistakes.

What qualities do you look for when hiring new people for your team?

Intellectual curiosity. Demonstrated accomplishment coupled with humility. Subject matter expertise, where necessary. Multi-tasking skills and the ability to stay calm in stressful situations. Diversity of background, experience and thought. Loyalty. Patience. Listening skills. Work ethic. Decency and a desire to give back to our communities.

We perform best when we share information and ideas with each other, listen, learn and teach each other, and lift one another up. This all starts with a fundamental recognition that others know more than we do and think differently and more creatively than we do, and that we can benefit from their insight. It’s good to have confidence in what you know, but equally important to acknowledge what you don’t know, or what someone else knows better than you.

In any open floor working environment like ours, each new hire can have a profound impact on the morale of the team. We spend a lot of time considering interpersonal dynamics and fit. We are looking for colleagues who have different perspectives and respectfully challenge each other. We want passionate debates, but we also want everyone to walk away from those debates feeling as though they’ve been heard and they’ve contributed, even if we ultimately decide to go in a different direction.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Be patient and take a long view. We live in a world of instant gratification, where people tend to want to quickly move onto something new before they’ve demonstrated that they can master their current responsibilities. It’s important to ask for, listen to, and act upon the feedback we receive.

That doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t have ambition. But, it’s best to make the case and move onto something new after you’ve shown a high degree of proficiency and, in the case of a leadership position, you’ve demonstrated that the talent depth has been well-developed such that your day-to-day focus in that area is no longer necessary.

If you work in the right organization with the right leadership, and work hard and demonstrate success, opportunities should flow from that. Not every organization or manager has the ability or desire to recognize and reward talent, or they may not place a high degree of value in certain attributes for which an individual thrives. In those cases, it may be best to look for another opportunity.

However, even today, where the younger generations tend to change jobs more frequently, multiple moves between different companies in a short period of time can be a red flag, require explanation and make it much more challenging for a candidate to demonstrate achievement in a role. Doing different things in the same organization is a much better story and will likely be far more rewarding.

How about the best life advice?

While we can all improve, always remember who you are at your core and be true to yourself. Don’t compromise your values for advancement or to make friends, and don’t expect or hope that everyone will like you. If you like yourself, do the right thing, and are respected by others for the right reasons, you’re winning at life.

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