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Transcript: How to create a global culture in your company

Large firms need a global culture.

KARL MOORE – This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. Today I am delighted to speak to Joe Andrew who is the Global Chair of Dentons, one of the top 10 largest law firms in the world.

Good afternoon Joe, welcome to McGill.

JOE ANDREW – Thank you Karl, happy to be here.

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KARL MOORE – Joe, it's only been about two months ago since Dentons really became the large firm that it is today. What was the logic from a global viewpoint of that occurring?

JOE ANDREW – Well, almost every conversation today about economics, about law firms, about obviously any of the idea industries, is really just a conversation about globalization. Globalization is obviously driving consolidation among all the professional service industries: whether it is architects or engineers or advertising companies or law firms as well.

Large clients want to have one organization that they think they can go to and handle obviously the challenges that they have across the globe and so law firms are responding by finding compatriots, other firms who that they think they can combine with, to be able to provide those kinds of services the clients want and say they need.

KARL MOORE – Unusually, you have almost an equal amount of partners in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and so on. Why did you take that approach as opposed to most of your competitors who are more centred in the U.K, or the U.S. or wherever?

JOE ANDREW – It is really client specific. Our view is that in a world where diversity itself becomes the norm, rather than something that is a sought-after goal, the client base is not just in the United Kingdom, it's not just in the United States, it is not just Anglo-Saxon.

So a traditional general counsel now might have been born in Brussels, educated in England, her first job was in Brazil, she met her spouse in Singapore, and now she is here in Montreal as the general counsel of a corporation – that is a real example by the way I am giving. So she has a different outlook on the world – it is not looking necessarily a big U.S. firm that sent the Yanks in or a big U.K. firm that is trying to rebuild the British Empire, but a firm that has people whom actually are of the cultures in which she has an interest in having a lawyer.

KARL MOORE – So when you look at it, you are bringing in diverse firms with very different cultures. How do you form one culture and where is it going to come from?

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JOE ANDREW – This is one of the great challenges of leadership that is true of almost any professional service organization, even if you are combining law firms or accounting firms that are inside the same geographic boundary.

Almost every big organization develops its own corporate culture – a corporate culture that can be similar in Germany and similar and France even if a French lawyer and a German lawyer may never have spent much time together and their grandparents fought a war against each other as well.

So the goal is to try and find organizations that share cultural attributes that go above and beyond nationality. Those cultural attributes tend to be formed first and foremost by the leadership and they tend to be historically based on what kind of firm is it. Is this an accounting firm that drinks beer or an accounting firm that drinks Pinot Noir? Those are the attributes that you need to try to investigate when you pull people together who are of very different cultures.

Now, it also is different, of course, with younger lawyers, or younger professionals, then it is with people who might be more mature because the younger generation is much more global to begin with and they tend to identify themselves with a set of cultural attributes that often go above and beyond nationality.

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