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By Kenneth C. Cancellara
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Kenneth C. Cancellara
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Chapter OneAs a young university student in Toronto, Canada, Mark Gentile had craved little else than to be an advocate and to employ his oratorical skills to sway a judge or a jury. His ambition, in his early years as a prosecutor, was raw and single-minded. He wanted to win, perhaps even at all costs. There were times when he himself had had a faint doubt as to an accused person's culpability. But one of Mark's best characteristics was tenacity, and so he persevered in each case, prioritizing evidence, preparing witnesses flawlessly, and weaving in just the right amount of advocacy with evidentiary facts and legal doctrines to secure convictions.
Within a couple of years of the start of his legal career at the Department of Justice, he had already become a feared adversary of even the most seasoned defense counsel. Although every opponent who faced Mark in court knew he was in for a battle, Mark's reputation was one of principled fairness toward his colleagues at the bar, the judiciary, and the adversarial, often hostile, witnesses he faced.
This is exactly how Mark Gentile wanted to be known, as a fair and tough prosecutor. He was as amenable to settling matters outside the legal process as he was to take cases to full and aggressive trials—and even to appeals where circumstances warranted.
At the start of his legal career, Mark had wanted only to be an advocate—a "barrister" in the traditional English characterization. He'd had no premonition of the twists and turns that awaited him, both inside and outside the practice of law.
After four years of "battling in the trenches," as Mark termed it, he knew that an important decision needed to be made. Should he stay with the Department of Justice permanently or move on to employ his acquired legal skills in private practice? This was not a decision Mark took lightly. He had very much enjoyed his last four years with the government and the power he felt whenever he needed to flash his Department of Justice identity card; the belief that he always acted for "the good guy" in every case he prosecuted; and the conviction that what he did wasn't just professionally fulfilling on a personal level, but that it made a real difference to the society of which he was a part. He consistently looked forward to the adrenaline rush he felt at the beginning of every court appearance, and the delicious laziness that came from being drained of energy upon the announcement of every verdict.
He compared trials to running a marathon: the painful days of physical exhaustion and mental suffering in training for the race; the anxiety spells and butterflies just before the start of the race; the exhaustion midway through the race; the second wind picked up inexplicably just as the physical and mental batteries were being drained; and finally, the euphoric climax of crossing the finish line, exalted by having successfully challenged physical and mental limitations. And so it was for his court work. For each trial, there was the exhausting preparation, followed by the exhilarations and disappointments encountered during the course of the trial, and invariably the end accompanied by a full energy depletion, as if someone had clicked the off button. But just as invariably, after a brief pause to allow his body to restore itself, Mark would again be ready to commence the same training regimen for his next court appearance. The course for the next case would be different, but the preparations; the surges of adrenaline; and the personal, physical, emotional, and mental experiences would remain unchanged. The challenge, the discipline, and the unpredictability were the reasons why Mark lived for the big race—whether in court or on the pavement.
Indeed, it had been a life he had found satisfying and enjoyable to this point, but Mark Gentile knew that his legal learning curve had just about reached its peak. If he wanted to progress into other, as yet uncharted, waters, he needed to make a move now, while he was still young enough to be an attractive target to potential employers and still flexible enough to venture into untapped legal fields. He had practiced exclusively in the criminal field for over four years, and while he had achieved a level of comfort in that particular discipline, he felt that it was time to venture into other areas of the law.
Curtin & Joseph LLP was a reputable and renowned national law firm with offices in major cities from coast to coast. Established over one hundred years ago, the firm had grown considerably, both in size and prestige, over the years. Curtin & Joseph had a large and well-respected litigation department, but it was known principally as a legal powerhouse in the corporate-commercial area. The firm's clients included some of the largest and best-known corporations, especially in the energy field.
Mark was attracted to Curtin & Joseph precisely because a position there would provide him an entry into the legal world of big business. At the firm, he would have the opportunity to interact with sophisticated and professional executives and litigate issues that were material to their corporate success, which excited him. The more Mark considered the prospect of working in Curtin & Joseph's Toronto office, the more he became convinced that he wanted to focus on big business. He hoped it could be where he left his mark. Learning of his interest in their firm, Curtin & Joseph was delighted to have attracted a young and talented man like Mark Gentile. His considerable reputation as a criminal trial lawyer had permeated the entire legal profession; it was an accepted fact that he was an up-and-comer. All Curtin & Joseph needed to do was convert Mark's experience, expertise, and passion as a litigation counsel from the "dungeon" (as the criminal courts were often called) to the civility of litigating merger and acquisition issues, matters involving oppression remedies and contracts—in short, legal issues that concerned dollars rather than life and liberty.
Mark gave his notice at the Department of Justice, and soon signed on as a partner at Curtin & Joseph. Mark felt more than ready for the new job. He began working tirelessly to defend the interests of his new firm's corporate clients. Mark's tenacity, considerable work habits, and skills of articulation endeared him to the senior corporate executives for whom he acted and with whom he mingled.
Mark found his switch into civil law seamless and painless, and within a short time, his reputation as a business litigator had grown to the point that some of the largest corporations sought him out as their advocate. Indeed, Mark had so quickly grown in stature that certain clients attempted to dangle retainers in front of him and his firm in order to prevent him from representing their competitors in the future. The conflicts committee of Curtin & Joseph was kept busy determining whether retainers for Mark's services ought to be accepted or rejected—a determination that would be made only after careful scrutiny of the nature and value of the proposed retainers. They principally analyzed whether the retainer was sought to advance or defend current issues, or whether it was merely a ploy to prevent Mark from being legitimately retained in the future to accept an opposing brief.
Mark Gentile's practice was thriving. Not only did he litigate some of the most important corporate and commercial issues arising in the world of business, he also advised boards of directors and senior executives on strategic issues that had little to do with litigation per se. The latter retainers were the most satisfying to Mark because they indicated that he had achieved a high level of maturity and business acumen; he now had the trust of the top decision makers. As a result, Mark's interest in law switched—gradually at first, but later with increasing velocity—from that of pure litigation to that of business advising. He became more interested in participating in corporate strategies in the boardroom, than in litigating in the courtroom.
Even as a lawyer, Mark showed a special aptitude for business decision making, and an understanding of the importance of legal ethics. And while there was little opportunity to exercise his entrepreneurial talents in his daily practice of law, he taught an ethics course at his alma mater to third-year law students, as they embarked on the mixed trajectory of pursuing a profession that was honorable and, at the same time, like any other profession, needed to show a profit. Mark felt a sense of accomplishment and personal pride in playing a small role in guiding young minds in their career paths.
But Mark was ready for much bigger challenges. He had developed an insatiable appetite for corporate business, and he was ready for a new chapter in his career.
Chapter TwoOf all the clients whom Mark served at Curtin & Joseph, none was as charismatic, progressive, passionate, and eccentric as seventy-year-old Gordon Welsh. Mark and Gordon became close friends almost from the start. Gordon had been a client of Curtin & Joseph since his early days as an individual investor in a newly created public offering. Gordon had a sixth sense for investing in successful start-ups and he became somewhat of a legend at Curtis & Joseph, not only for his meticulous financial analyses, but also for his innate sense of fair dealing.
Mark had initially been introduced to Gordon to provide corporate governance advice to him and to his board of directors. Soon, the two had struck a tight relationship and Mark became Gordon's "go-to" attorney whenever he sought legal advice. Gordon's trust in Mark grew to the point that Mark became Gordon's sounding board even on non-legalistic business decisions.
Two decades earlier, Gordon had become a media darling when he had announced that he was starting up a new North American automobile manufacturer to compete head-on with Detroit's "Big Three" and with the European and Asian auto industries. But he wouldn't be just another carmaker. Gordon's idea was simple and yet tantalizingly eloquent: build small cars that saved energy and were environmentally friendly. Gordon's dream had been announced at a time when neither the environment nor energy consumption were relevant issues among the majority of the world's population. In those days, fossil energy depletion had not been often thought about, much less discussed publicly. Greenpeace had made sporadic attempts to place environmental concerns on the global agenda, but these attempts, although laudable, had never been very successful.
The Big Three had kept producing automobiles with fins and chrome and powered by engines with little or no regard to emissions or fuel consumption. Fossil fuel, in those days, had been considered a nondepleting asset, with supply greatly outpacing demand. And yet, Gordon had had a vision. He had foreseen that the world would change and had been ready to create a car company. The success of his proposed business was based on the dual strategy of energy conservation and environmental protection; neither issue had perceived strategic advantage at the time. Either Gordon Welsh was a great visionary or an idealistic fool.
At first, the business segment of the population had been skeptical, to say the least, of Gordon's announced strategy. Yet Gordon had the reputation of being a hard-nosed businessman with a sixth sense for a profitable opportunity, and so, though the public had not shared Gordon's optimism over his new venture, they had not been ready to dismiss it as a frivolous pipe dream either. They had looked at it with curiosity and interest.
Many had invested in the initial public offering when Gordon went to the public markets to raise capital for the start-up of Santius Automotive Inc. The media had found in Gordon a messiah-type business leader who had precisely captured, in Santius's strategy, the two most important issues that would define our world in the next fifty years: fuel efficiency and environmental care.
The media had followed Gordon everywhere, printing his every pronouncement as if it were emanating from the Holy Scriptures. And Gordon had known how to play the media to further his interests. He knew what they wanted to hear; therefore, he had uttered thoughts that were controversial, scandalous, patriotic, or encouraging, all as circumstances required. This media frenzy had been partially—some might say, principally—responsible for an oversubscribed initial public offering. Santius Automotive Inc. had become a reality, and with the funds from the successful IPO, Gordon had been ready to roll out his vision.
When Mark first began to work with Santius, the company had been in operation for almost twenty years. Gordon had never strayed from his early strategy and the mandate he had implemented. Even when it looked as if Gordon may have misconceived future global automotive needs, Santius kept creating small automobiles that were at least twice as fuel efficient as those of its competitors and were infinitely more eco-friendly than any other car.
As the world entered the twenty-first century, and as certain world conflicts began to create global unrest, spikes in fuel prices began to surface, at first sporadically and later with more regularity. From time to time, there was wild panic in some parts of the world over the unavailability of gasoline. As the media focused on long lines, and "we are out of gas" signs appeared at many service centers, Gordon's legend as a visionary grew in stature. And so did Santius's car sales and profitability.
As the price of energy continued to fluctuate, at times with dramatic volatility, the discomfort consumers felt over the unpredictability of supply and price only increased consumers' demands for smaller and more fuel-efficient automobiles. This change in consumer pattern forced a number of automobile manufacturers to adopt Gordon's strategies, implemented twenty years earlier. It was now beginning to seem that Gordon had created a market niche that would ensure, or at lease prolong, the Santius brand's competitive advantage.
Chapter ThreeEarly one Monday morning, Mark's phone rang. "Good morning. This is Mark Gentile," Mark said.
"Mark, it's Gordon. Can you come to the offices tomorrow?" The urgency in Gordon's voice raised Mark's curiosity over the nature of the proposed meeting, but the veteran executive didn't bite. "I want to talk to you about something that can't easily be discussed on the phone," Gordon said. "Come by at ten o'clock tomorrow morning—and set aside the whole day."
Mark asked his long-time assistant, Jennifer Cole, to cancel all his appointments for the next day. The fact that there had been no unnecessary preliminary chitchat, and that Gordon's request had left no room for Mark's refusal to attend, created a sense of anticipation and excitement in Mark.
"Good to see you again, Mark. Please sit down," Gordon said as Mark entered the private conference room adjacent to Gordon's office the next day. Mark poured coffee for himself and Gordon and sat across from the CEO at the small round table.
"Mark, I'll get right to the point. There's much for us to discuss today, and for you to consider." Mark's anxiety was palpable as a light throb in his head began like the distant beating of a drum. Nevertheless, his demeanor was calm, professional, and attentive. Gordon began his narrative slowly and reflectively.
"When I conceived Santius's strategy twenty plus years ago, I knew—well, perhaps that's too strong a word—let's say that I strongly suspected that energy would eventually become the world's most pressing issue. Over one half of the world's population lives in unimaginable levels of poverty, so, sooner or later, I knew natural progress would dictate an emergence, a development, of these markets. Countries like China, India, Brazil—accounting for one-half of the world's population—were necessarily going to emerge and become industrialized. This evolution required energy, more energy than was available, more energy than was conceivable. Imagine the development of infrastructures to accommodate almost three billion persons. Cars, factories, roads, houses, commercial facilities, machinery, equipment—all needing energy from a depleting source.
"Today, and for the foreseeable future, the thirst for energy by these emerging markets, coupled with the continuing and ever-increasing need for energy by the developed nations, is wreaking havoc in our environment through increased emissions. This need for energy is dramatically increasing the price of fossil fuel beyond affordability. I felt, and still feel, that this could plunge the world into an economic depression the likes of which our world has not experienced."
Mark listened intently and marveled at the simplicity of Gordon's common sense. Why hasn't anyone else articulated this analysis with the same matter-of-fact logic and simplicity? Mark thought. It is so persuasive precisely because there seems to be precious little to rebut. That's what distinguishes a visionary like Gordon from the rest of us.
Excerpted from FINDING MARCO by Kenneth C. Cancellara Copyright © 2012 by Kenneth C. Cancellara. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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