Once most people find a comfortable job, they tend to follow its path in a fairly passive and reactive fashion. Without much long-term planning, they work their way up the ranks or find a position with another company in the same industry.
Dennis Calderon, on the other hand, approaches his career with a different strategy. He believes you should handle your career like a business, constantly refining and reinforcing your brand along the way. “Running a business, you have to consider your goals, objectives, and strategies for success, and you have to be proactive about recognizing new opportunities,” Calderon says. “Your career shouldn’t be any different.”
Here’s how Calderon built his brand as a technology law expert with a wide network.
Forecasting the Future
Today, Calderon is the vice president of legal affairs at Inseego, but he got his start practicing corporate law at Cooley Godward LLP, now known as Cooley LLP. This was at the dawn of the initial internet boom, and he saw the possibilities of a career in technology law. His interest in tech law led him to two in-house positions prior to his current role, one at Medibuy, an e-commerce company within the healthcare industry, and NextWave Broadband, a wireless technology company. Each one enabled him to expand his skill set and refine his strengths—building a name for himself in the niche field.
Calderon did well in the fast-paced, rapid-growth environment and began to consider opening his own boutique firm that would provide external general counsel services to technology companies. When Medibuy decided to move its headquarters away from the West Coast—a move that Calderon and his wife did not want to make—he happened to have a conversation with a friend and former colleague from Cooley Godward Kronish. The firm had a conflict of interest with a project for a client Calderon had worked with extensively when he was still there. That client ended up being the catalyst for Calderon launching his own firm, Venture Counsel Group (VCG), and they became its first core client.
VCG ultimately positioned Calderon to work with a variety of clients in a range of different industries. Furthering his expertise, he gained insights into a diverse set of best practices and other business strategies—everything from conceptual initiatives to day-to-day tactics—that he could then use when working with other clients. For example, in one case, a client was trying to negotiate a royalty arrangement for a licensing deal but was unhappy with the proposed royalty arrangement. Using his problem-solving skills, Calderon suggested using a structure that he had used with a client in a different industry, and the structure was ultimately adopted for the deal.
Building a Network
During this period, Calderon reinforced his personal brand and indulged his interest in entrepreneurship by establishing a series of informal round table discussions. He brought in experts in marketing, company-building, and various evolving online platforms and invited friends and acquaintances who could benefit from their advice. The events helped build an entrepreneurial community and enabled Calderon to develop strategic relationships for himself and to help attendees make connections for potential partnerships. Networking is now key to his brand and career.
His extended network proved invaluable in helping Calderon find his current position.
An HR contact from an earlier in-house position put him in touch with the general counsel at Novatel Wireless. The company ended up being a VCG client for a year, and then Novatel offered him the position of in-house director of legal affairs. Calderon recognized the potential to expand his range of experience within a publicly traded company. At the same time, he could leverage the core elements of his brand, which he identifies as being creative, adaptable, efficient, and able to offer insights beyond the typical boundaries of the wireless industry.
“In solo practice, I learned that the legal role is a service business,” he says. “I kept that mind-set when I joined Novatel by responding quickly to clients—which are the principals and managers within the organization—getting to know their businesses and challenges, keeping them informed, and following through on what I promised. That approach keeps you in business and helps breed success.”
Adapting to Change
In 2016, in connection with an agreement to sell the company’s mobile broadband business to T.C.L. Industries Holdings (H.K.) Limited, Novatel reorganized its business by creating Inseego as a parent company. Calderon took over as chief legal officer of Inseego in July 2017. Along with new business prospects, a reinvigorated, refocused, and highly engaged team, this presented Calderon with new opportunities to further develop his brand. As Inseego establishes a leadership position in 5G and internet of things (IoT) technology, he is developing additional relationships and leveraging his experience to introduce new best practices to help reduce expenses, develop more beneficial business relationships, and streamline legal operations.
“Most of my accomplishments in my career haven’t been the goals I had when I started out,” he says. “Now, I have a chance to be part of something very exciting—something I would have missed if I hadn’t stayed in touch with my own strengths and interests and with what was happening around me every step of the way.”