Hogan Lovells CEO Steve Immelt keys in on diversity for his multinational firm

Steve Immelt is steeped in diversity as head of a global law firm.

As CEO of multinational law firm Hogan Lovells, Steve Immelt is steeped in diversity and attuned to being a strong manager.

“You have to understand the different cultural perspectives to be effective,” Immelt told FierceCEO. “Communication is very important.”

Immelt has been CEO since 2013 after joining the firm with different roles in 1998.

As CEO, Immelt is in a position of managing people in England, Germany, France and roughly 20 other countries.

“That was an eye-opener,” he said. “I came to appreciate pretty quickly that when you’re in that setting, your own views about how the world is set up go out the window. You really have to become a much better listener, and you learn that there are very different cultural lenses. You have to make sure that everybody who has something to say has a chance to say it.”

Immelt said that helped develop his style of management, of trying to be a good listener, and trying to think through the way Americans can be misperceived or perceived, “and then trying to take that out of the equation as much as you can so you can find common ground. That’s a challenge for anybody running a global organization today.”

Immelt said his management style is also “pretty direct. I believe in straight talk to try to be clear about what I expect from people.”

Lawyers “like not to be managed,” Immelt said. “You have to try to persuade them that they will be better off by collaborating with other people.”

As for keeping tabs on the firm’s 2,800 lawyers, “on one level, you can’t,” Immelt said. “I have a team of people I work with day to day. You have to have an information collection system.”

Clarity of vision “is important, too, particularly in a law firm where people are trained to be skeptical. In a setting like that, you have to be clear about what you’re asking people to do and where the firm is headed.”

Immelt spends eight months a year in Washington, D.C. and the other four in London.

The problem “isn’t filling up your day,” Immelt said. “The problem is filling up your day with problems and issues that actually require my attention.”

With 45 offices there are challenges like: “Do you have people all in step,” Immelt said. “Communication is hugely important.”

But, “I love the diversity of our practice, people and offices,” Immelt said. “You’re constantly engaged.”

Fast Five with Steve Immelt

What's the key to finding new opportunities for revenue?

Understanding what clients need. Looking at the world and what’s happening in it.

What’s a tip for motivating employees?

Be fair. Be consistent.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the lowest and 10 the highest) how much of a priority do you place on the following things at your company: people, process and technology?

  • People—10
  • Process—4
  • Technology—7

How important is company culture?

It’s everything. If we’re all not on the same page, that’s not going to work in delivering value to clients.

How do you hire?

I try to understand what’s motivating the person to move. Who are you, what motivates you and what do you want out of life?