Long before he became the Americas regional chief operating officer for the law firm White & Case, Victor Nuñez was a summer intern at Sports Illustrated. He had no prior journalism experience, but his life as a student athlete at Wesleyan University had led him to the position, which led to two years in publishing. And, the impact of his athletic career went on to reverberate far beyond his tenure at the magazine.
It was through team sports that Nuñez learned how to deal with setbacks, resolve conflicts, and work with a diverse group—lessons that he applies as a leader at White & Case. “I’ve worked in three different, distinct industries, from publishing to financial services to the legal industry,” he says. “Each of those industries has its own unique personality and completely different business model. Those life skills from sports carry through all of those situations.”
Nuñez left Sports Illustrated to complete a master’s degree in international finance at Columbia University. After graduating, he joined American Express’s global brokerage and banking team in New York. In 2004, Nuñez signed on with White & Case as a financial analyst. He grew with the firm, taking a role as regional finance director for the Americas and then becoming the regional COO in 2009. “Ultimately, my job is to make sure the business is humming along and that our people have what they need to do what they do,” he says.
In March 2017, White & Case moved its headquarters in New York City from 1155 Sixth Avenue, where it had been since 1983, to a larger office several blocks north. Nuñez was part of a core project committee that drove the design, development, and construction of the new office. The committee included lawyers from each of the firm’s six practice sections as well as nonlegal staff members, who make up half of the employees at the firm’s New York office. “We really tried to get a good representation of the business—both how we work today and how our younger lawyers are expecting to work in the future,” Nuñez says.
To guarantee that employees’ voices are heard, Victor Nuñez holds regular, informal calls, maintains an open-door policy, and solicits feedback from diverse voices. “It’s a people business,” he says. “I put a lot of stock in relationship building and really understanding everything that’s affecting our people in a given office.”
Nuñez solicited feedback from partners and staff through focus groups and town hall meetings years in advance of the move. He and the project committee sought to create a space that would allow for easy collaboration and emphasize a sense of unity.
“Victor is an amazing individual to work with and a true team player,” says Tom Doughty, international director at Jones Lang LaSalle. “He is gifted at putting the right people in the right situation to achieve success. It’s like watching a hall of fame baseball manager guide his team to a Game 7 World Series victory. ”
The floors in the new office are almost three times the size of the old, allowing each of the firm’s six practice segments—banking, capital markets, project finance, corporate M&A, competition law, and general disputes—to sit on its own floor. This was not the case before. “If you were a litigator, you could be on one of four or five different floors,” Nuñez says. “You could go weeks or months without seeing your colleagues who are working on similar matters or transactions.”
The new office has shared amenities spaces throughout, including open work areas, conference rooms that employees can reserve for team meetings, and larger pantries that function as social clubs. These shared amenities demonstrate the firm’s unified vision. Because of the size and layout of the firm’s previous office, its old amenities were not available to all employees. The gym, for example, was a small, lawyer-only facility located two levels underground. “It certainly wasn’t an ironclad policy that we had lawyer and nonlawyer services and amenities,” Nuñez says. “It was just limitation of space.”
Focus groups showed that having a fitness center was important to employees across the organization, so Nuñez wanted to make sure the space was available to everyone. “I think it sends a message that we’re all really one firm,” he says. “It’s great to see a senior partner next to a junior associate next to one of our IT folks next to a secretary—all running on treadmills side by side.”
The operations team worked overnight to complete the move. Furniture movers delivered printers, desks, and nameplates; IT staff plugged in the wires and connected everyone to the network. “In that particular period of time, when no one was looking, so to speak, we had a good number of people giving it their all and making sure this thing went off as flawlessly as possible,” Nuñez says.
After the move, Nuñez learned that the operations team had taken pictures throughout the process. There were group selfies in the freight elevator at 2:00 a.m. and pictures of the offices strewn with boxes and wires.
To memorialize the move and the effort of those involved, Nuñez compiled these pictures into a book, which he presented to the operations team at an intimate dinner in midtown Manhattan. “I took the opportunity to thank everybody first and foremost and let them know that we couldn’t have gotten it done without them and they couldn’t have gotten it done without themselves and the people they were next to at that dinner,” he says. “That little picture book was a little memento for all of us to remember the experience.”
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