May 11, 2023

Episode #78: Alex Mounts – Krieg DeVault LLP

Alex Mounts is chair of Krieg DeVault’s Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation Practice Group. His practice includes counseling both for-profit and not-for-profit clients on a wide spectrum of employee benefits-related matters. Alex also focuses his practice on employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) and spends significant time working with companies, trustees, lenders and sellers on issues surrounding ESOPs including design and implementation and sales of ESOP companies. He also spends significant time working with clients on executive compensation matters including designing and implementing nonqualified deferred compensation plans and equity and non-equity-based incentive compensation programs.

While much has changed since Krieg DeVault’s founding in Indianapolis, over 140 years ago, our commitment to listening to our clients has not. Client satisfaction and loyalty have allowed us to grow from a two-lawyer general practice in the mid-1870s to our current status as a premier business-focused law firm.

Transcript

hello this is coach Tim Campsall and I’m your host for the self-made is a myth make a difference together show where we’re talking with successful business owners to hear their stories of building their business and because we know that success in business is not something that we do on our own we’re taking time to recognize the folks who have helped us along the way I’m excited to have a fellow business owner from Indiana with us today my guests collected Pez dispensers as a kid and has over 500 um in uh in storage I believe we’ll hear a little bit more about that in a little bit in his downtime he loves to travel he’s been both internationally and uh and nationally he’s been to half of the the national parks and has a desire to visit them all he is most proud of surviving check this out helping to make medieval castle replicas with three of his kids when they were in fourth grade wow well I’m going to want to hear about that I’m sure you all will too it is my pleasure to welcome Alex to the show today Hello Alex hi Tim how are you I’m awesome thanks for asking hey let’s start with having you um introduce yourself tell us a little bit of your personal story like where you were born and live and and about your family sure yeah I’m uh uh I am originally from Evansville Indiana the southwestern part of the state I was born there and uh moved uh went to undergrad at Taylor University uh and then went to law school at uh IU in Indianapolis um been married for almost 22 years now have four kids congratulations 18 15 12 and 9 and um have lived in Indianapolis uh off for 22 a little over 22 years now so tell us about the Pez dispensers what got you into collecting those I I have no idea I don’t know how it started it probably started like uh for most people who get a Pez dispenser uh at Christmas time or at Easter in the Easter basket I’m sure that’s probably how it started and then uh somehow they start the number started growing and then people found out that I had them and then they started giving them to me and uh it was it was a it was a fun thing to to collect I still I still like them and from time to time um I’ll put them on displays at like public libraries yeah you know there’s a little bit of nostalgia I think for for all of us in it wonderful and medieval castle replicas what’s that all about yeah so uh my kids have gone to the Oaks Academy in Indianapolis and they study uh medieval time period And so a big project is to make a uh replica Castle uh and uh which is which is a lot of fun but there’s a lot of learning for both the parent and the child in that uh because it takes a lot of time to do so I’m I’m glad to say that I’m finished but had a lot of fun making all three of them that’s awesome so Alex what’s a funny story that your family uh likes to tell about you that you’d be willing to share with us today uh they they probably would like to tell about the time that uh I was flying for work and the very last seat corner of an airplane out of Phoenix when it was like 117 degrees by the bathroom and we hit a thunderstorm and I proceeded to vomit all over myself and I had to uh sit with it like that until I got to Denver oh it was probably one of my most embarrassing moments uh yes they they like to they like to share that story I could I can see why that’s a good story to share about somebody else yes absolutely tell us especially during covid when you had a mask on

yes

you just can’t get away from it then no tell us about how the business came about and and at what time did you have the confidence that you could run your own business yeah so I’m I’m a partner at the law firm of Craig devault and so we have about a hundred uh about 100 attorneys or so we’re kind of full service business law firm and uh so I during law school I decided uh private practice is is was the place for me and um and so it started uh here at Craig Duvall after law school and um uh specifically in our employee benefits executive compensation ESOP group uh and you know over time the probably the stereotypical goal of law firms is to work up to becoming a partner which is a business owner uh it’s becoming an owner in the firm and so um you know I I your first several years are probably consumed with just doing the work but but at some point that starts to transition and and really wanting to become an owner and have more say and and have kind of more control so to speak um so yeah cool um tell us a little bit more about the company um uh you just made sure but tell everyone the name of it and what are you guys doing and specifically how do you help people yeah so uh Craig Duvall it’s uh you know mid-sized Law Firm we’re based in Indianapolis but we have office offices in Chicago Mishawaka Maryville um our and then Carmel uh as well and uh we we assist uh we any way a business could need an attorney whether that’s from litigation to on the business contract side mergers and Acquisitions lending review those types of things is is how we get involved with with helping our clients and and more specifically for me um I chair our employee benefits executive compensation ESOP Practice Group and so that is uh our area of my area of focus and my team’s area focus is helping our clients with employee benefit matters wonderful um Alex share us a story where somebody pushed you or inspired you that you could do it maybe even though you didn’t think you could and the impact that that person had on you sure yeah I would say I was probably in in my fifth year probably becoming an associate over the halfway mark of where traditionally you would be you know matriculating toward partnership and one of the partners in my group Sharon Hearn just sat down with me and and made it you know abundantly clear that look if you want to have a long successful career you really have to be getting out in general finding ways to generate work and that’s through continuing to develop relationships developing new relationships thinking strategically on on um how you can Market your services and where does where can you connect with people and and really just pushed me and said that really is going to need to happen especially when you have other people who are ahead of you who have existing relationships and then also just affirming that the need to continue to do excellent work for clients um and not Take Your Eye Off the Ball there but just continue to service them and and make relation ships within our clients as people are coming along and so that that was um that was a important conversation uh in my career life sometimes those conversations can be uh hard to hear or tough to hear it was that uh was that an easy conversation or was it a you know a little bit of a shake conversation no it was it was an easy conversation I was definitely receptive to it and I I think if anything that um really uh kind of took off any kind of things that I felt like were holding me back from doing that because you’re trying to balance um working for existing Partners inside the firm with how much tension should I be giving that versus my own Career Development and um you know really just putting the crosshairs on ultimately you’re responsible for your own Career Development and taking the steps that you need to do to get to where you need to be and so that was very freeing for me um and that that really was coinciding in 2008 2009 where there was a recession and so realizing that um you know the the future that I’m thinking I want to have for myself um if I’m just sitting back and just only helping other people that’s important and there’s a role for that but I need to Pivot as well and do both so wonderful um you’ve probably uh experienced a ton in your uh in your career what’s your biggest learning as a business owner as a partner of the firm yeah I I would say it’s probably that relationships matter a whole lot um uh they matter a whole lot both inside your company um your relationships with everybody from support staff to colleagues to maintenance people to accounting to whomever they’re all integral to my own success and ultimately our client success because that’s first and first foremost but relationships are really really important and to not uh not Overlook the human element um and realize that uh that without without the other people you you’re you’re not going to get very far uh or you’re certainly not going to do it in a happy way yeah and then I think the other the other thing that I’ve learned is um client service um will create loyalty will create a lot of loyalty being responsive being there for our clients um doing good work listening just excellent client service will will really create loyalty and sure we all have some customers that are purely transactional they only care about the the dollar and they’re here and they’re gone but the long-term clients that you want to stick with you um paying attention to client service will and sometimes cover a multitude of sins really um and so it’s very very important yeah it’s interesting too that um there seems to have been a shift over the last you know 10 years or so of um not as much of a focus on the service side and and much more transactional so I’ve I’ve seen that at those companies who keep that focus and make that a priority they they significantly differentiate themselves from their competitors because it’s just not the norm anymore do you get do you guys see that in your industry a hundred percent so with our clients you know I I have the privilege of working with a lot of different companies and a lot of different Industries and um very often our clients aren’t the least expensive provider and sometimes they could be an upper quartile but uh for a customer to know that they can deliver on time on spec uh with the quality and service that they expect um you know a lot of times people will pick certainty and convenience um over over price and I see our clients having success with that of just staying focused on those elements make a huge difference uh for them and we try to do the same things ourselves yeah it’s I love what you just said about you know the the prioritization because a uh something that doesn’t show up on time or something that shows up you know not to spec can be significantly more expensive than the you know than the cost Savings of a transactional relationship that’s right that’s exactly right um Alex we know that business success doesn’t happen in isolation so tell us about your biggest challenge during the years as a as a partner and um and maybe a fellow partner or business owner who came alongside you and helped you through that challenge yeah I think it’s um I I think that the challenge is uh for me in the industry I’m in is developing my own practice separate and apart from my colleagues you know many of whom are you know when I was early in my career could have been my parents um or certainly an older brother um and they’ve been they’ve been there longer they have more relationships and so how do you develop uh how do you develop separate and apart from them uh and and so I I think it was just a number of the partners uh that I worked with I mentioned Sharon Hearn and and Steve Smith but just trying to get you to think strategically and about how are you marketing how are you developing your services where are you marketing to what relationships are you developing and then having accountability around them so if you’re going to a conference what are you doing at the conference who are you meeting with what meals are you having what what existing clients are you connecting with those types of things to to just push me and be very intentional about growing my my own practice um is it was probably you know the biggest the biggest challenge along the way uh and and then when I transitioned into oh seven plus years ago being the chair of our Practice Group um you know the former chair spending time with me and overlapping and helping me as I grow into that role uh was been was very instrumental at the time to help to keep consent the group to continue to grow and go and what we need to do by having some continuity there and so that that was very helpful to you yeah for those um that are listening that may not you know fully understand the the partner model um it was interesting what you said about building your own practice within the firm can you just elaborate on that a little bit help people understand what you mean by that yeah so um you know if um it’s almost as if I have my own business within the firm that’s that’s not how we operate we’re a full-service firm but you know I have my own clients so sure the firm maybe has institutional clients that have been there for a long time but for the firm to continue to grow and develop the attorneys need to have their own clients uh that they’re servicing so those are businesses just like yourselves and um so how do you do that how do you go out and get new business uh so that you can service those companies uh and meet their legal needs and so when you have other you’ve got I have other attorneys that do the same type of work I do and they have their own relationships and their own connections and contacts and so if I spend all my time in the same pools that they’re swimming in I’m probably not going to catch very many fish we’re fishing in the same pond because they they have you know more experience of thinking strategically of how do I develop my own kind of my own business uh within the within the firm and my own book of clients right so in on one sense your quote unquote competitors of one another but on the other sense you know if you’re all successful then you all win together is that a fair yeah absolutely uh absolutely and I think that that’s where um the benefit that and I guess the blessing that I feel like I have here is yes uh theoretically my colleagues are competitors to the extent we’re doing the same type of work but that’s really not how we how we view things and so um it’s how can we support each other to make each other successful because uh as we’re individually successful the firm is successful and so we benefit from that and also realizing that the firm’s not going to end with us they there are there are attorneys below us so how are we going to help them come along so that they can become successful and as we move towards retirement transitioning some of our clients to them as they continue to grow their own so it’s um I feel fortunate to be part of a law firm where it is very collaborative and it’s a very much a team approach um and how we get compensated is reflected in how we work together the culture it it sounds like you guys have built uh intentionally built a pretty cool culture how uh how does that differ from maybe you know other you know how does that make a difference in terms of day-to-day for you guys versus maybe you know a place where it’s a little bit more cutthroat yeah I I um I don’t know because this is this is the only place I’ve ever good for you that’s an attorney so I you know uh which probably more and more is you see less longer tenured uh but I’ve been here in 19 years and so I can just speak to my experience here that you know when you spend the majority of your working day with a group of people um uh I would rather be life-giving than life sucking and um so we we are uh that’s why I’m very uh and we and I say I because as chair of the group but uh are very protective of the culture and who we bring into the group uh for that very reason because uh we have found over the years that just like you know a product that’s not delivered timely or the spec could be expensive hiring the wrong person can be very timely and expensive and uh exert a large emotional toll as well so um it’s something that’s we are um are very sensitive about yeah yeah I I that that’s critical because we’ve all had situations where we’ve brought on the wrong person who isn’t a cultural fit and and the the unfortunate thing is we can’t you can never teach somebody to to culturally align right you can teach skills and you can help people gain experience but they’re either a fit or they’re not and it becomes very obvious pretty quickly when they’re not right right that’s right if I asked you to to pick three people kind of gonna put you on the spot here three people in your journey that have been you’re most grateful for in terms of the way that they’ve helped you um with your business growth who are those three people and specifically how they help you yeah so the the first one is very easy it’d be my wife um uh who is not an attorney and does not work at creative all uh but I I couldn’t do what I do without her support uh and um just the the she’s become a chief Logistics officer yeah I have four kids so um just with her support and freeing me up to be able to do what I need to do and have flexibility in and encouraging me and challenging me whenever I needed to to hear whatever the message was being there to do that so I I attribute her with first and foremost um you know whatever success I’ve had is in large part because of her and what’s her name uh Whitney Whitney awesome yeah Beyond uh Beyond Whitney I would say uh two partners I mentioned Sharon Hearn earlier and Steve Smith both were have since retired and are enjoying retirement doing various different things uh but both of both of whom I learned different skill sets uh both Technical and soft skill sets from um learned how to communicate with clients uh with with without sounding like a lawyer um how to try to be Solutions oriented practical um how to not forget the human element dealing with clients those are those are some really valuable skill sets I feel very fortunate to have had to push me and challenge me uh frustrate me at times to you know cheer me on um uh they both uh left a lasting mark on on my career and how I practice and and probably somehow I how I practice really to clients is is in part because of because of them wonderful um you said something that I I want to dig into a little bit though it must be uh an interesting balance between the legalese right and all of the specific wording and Technical aspects of the business and then having to be able to put that into layman’s terms and and translate that to you know to just an average business owner who doesn’t have all of the the legal understanding so talk tell me a little bit about that in terms of you know bouncing back forth in those two different worlds and being able to help come alongside your client right and talk in their language yeah it’s it’s um you know that that’s that’s always the challenge that’s before me of remembering who your audience is and we’re always all all of us are always doing that right who’s our audience who are we who are we talking to and then what message do they need to hear and then how can they best hear that message so that’s that’s kind of always before me do I time slip into jargon uh yes at times I may slip into jargon but um you know looking through the client of the lens of how can we help them succeed what do they need to accomplish and what needs to happen um not that we’re ever dumbing anything down but what what what’s the message they need to get and how do they need to receive it and so you know sometimes you’re going to have to get into weeds and talk about legal Concepts other times it’s um well let’s just let’s talk about this without getting specific legalese and jargon and and then trying to think about how you communicate in writing with them as well via email sure um I just think you know if I was a business owner how would I how would I want to hear this message sure I probably wouldn’t want to see an email with a bunch of defined terms in it you know I would want to I would want to you know see a message that’s telling me succinctly what’s the problem is how are we going to deal with it and what are my options and what’s the risk yeah I love it I love that it’s just that you have that that awareness and the ability to to go back and forth and and know your audience it’s awesome so Alex as you think about the next three to five years what are the biggest challenges that you see that you’re going to face in reaching your goals and who are the types of people you’re going to need to help solve those challenges yeah I think there’s probably three main challenges um succession planning with within our group as we you know it’s we’re always doing succession planning sure no matter where people are in their career and I’ve got different um ages within the group um but always thinking about how are we going to address succession planning both on people transitioning out and then also bringing new people in um and so that that’s that is always before us and it’s something we always want to be attention intentional about just for client retention and client service um client service first and foremost but then you know they’re happy then they stay yeah right the the second one I think is training and this is this is coupled probably a little bit in with culture with the just the evolution of remote work and we have a remote work policy where we’re supposed to be three days in two days out you can pick what it’s you pick which days make sense um and that’s that’s on average so you may be in office five days a week and we have some people that are every day I happen to be one of those people who just comes in five days a week you have other people and maybe they’re only in one day and then four days the next but thinking through how do we maintain how are we intentional about training in a more virtual environment than when we’re all in the office and it’s a whole lot easier to pop into some of these office and ask a question or run into somebody in the kitchen and say oh this came up you know those top of Mind type things that happen more fluidly when everybody’s together how are we continuing to train our our Associates and paralegals uh in a more remote work of environment and then maintaining culture is just part and parcel with that it’s it’s the same same thing so culture is very important to us how do we maintain that when we don’t see each other as much how are we intentional about that what kinds of things are we doing to try to um facilitate relationships and relationship building within the group I think those are probably the the three challenges that I see and then in terms of you know the kind of people what who are we looking for what are the kind of people were looking for and you know you could ask some of my colleagues and they may have a slightly different answer than I do but for for me whenever I’m you know interviewing candidates uh for our group it’s this probably boils down to four things of do I do I see this person as a client first type person are they going to be looking out for our clients needs first and foremost which means saying yes to helping out with something when it may not be convenient to them not meaning that they’re don’t have work-life balance but are they a client first person are they practical um and um I don’t for me I don’t resonate with somebody who’s hyper academic um or esoteric I I I’ve just found that our business owners they just don’t resonate with that they want to know practical Solutions what what is it and then somebody who’s creative as well because in my area of the law I do a lot of executive compensation and I do a lot of Employee Stock ownership plan ESOP work that’s those are my two main areas I do work in there are certainly a lot of defined laws and rules around these things but there’s also a fair amount of creativity that comes into play and so how how able is someone to really look at something and be creative and how they’re going to put it together within the confines of what they’ll allows and then the last one this one is probably more unique to me but I’ve just found whenever people didn’t work in my mind it always came down to this one someone who has a higher sense of urgency and this is again more unique to our practice other practices would be would be different if you’re a gift in estate planning attorney you the sense of urgency may not be quite the same sure your clients already passed um but for me somebody who has a sense of urgency who is and this goes to just the client service and satisfaction of being responsive turning work back to them uh I’ve just found that that is is very important so people that kind of in my mind check those four boxes would be the kind of people who had helped to address the succession planning the training and then culture I love that you’ve got that level of detail earlier you were mentioning how important culture is and and that we’ve you know we’ve all made mistakes of bringing on the wrong people so it it sounds like you’ve got you know very specific in terms of the types of people that are going to fit your culture are going to do well within your culture so that you can help you know speed up the interview process by only looking for those types of people or screening out you know the folks that don’t fit that mold that’s that’s awesome though you’ve you’ve done that work yeah and I think the overlay the umbrella all over that is I think you know attorneys are attorneys and there’s a lot of good jokes for a lot of good reasons but I I think we like to pride ourselves we’re mostly normal um and so there’s there’s the normalness factor that goes into an interview as well yeah fair enough yes some of the industry specific jokes are uh can be uh can be very brutal but also honest right right that’s right last question here Alex um Jim Rohn awesome uh author and business uh leader one of his quotes is we become the average of the five people that we spend the most time with so as you think about that quote what advice would you have for business owners who are trying to do it on their own who feel like they need to do it on their own and what would you say to them based on your experiences uh I I would say that you can’t do it on your own and um or or you can but your business won’t be what it could be and you won’t be as happy as you could be either I I I the the as soon as I embraced um in my career the need to delegate and involve other people um I just saw my satisfaction and my job go up because and part of that is tough um because you have to grow to accept that they’re not going they may not do it as well as you do it yep they certainly aren’t going to do it exactly like you do it yeah but um what I’ve found in observing time and time again clients are resilient and if they’re getting the product ultimate product that they want and need then um then just because they’re not getting it exactly like the way you gave it to them or in the same manner or the different way as long as they’re getting what they need and you’re servicing their needs um they’re they’re gonna they’re gonna stay they’re gonna stick with you yeah and that really then frees you up the more you delegate that frees you up to continue to do other things which could be uh could be going out and developing other areas of your business could be growing uh product lines it could be moving more in a big picture strategic role for business owners I see that specifically that they get an operational team in place that really gets the business humming and rolling and candidly a lot of times I hear thank goodness you know here she’s not showing up every day because we get a whole lot more done without that person here um you know right there’s a little tongue-in-cheek with that but um moving in more of a strategic supervisory role could be more of a board seat role um and then that that really frees you up then you know to the extent you have other passions that you want to be involved with to you know pursue some of those without feeling like you’re chained to the business yeah um so it can allow you to invest in your business more it allows you to best in your people more candidate because you have more free time rather than direct you know spending so much time with customers not that you still may not be doing that but having other people take those segments especially segments that you don’t do as well those things just suck the life out of you it’s a friend to use excellent in doing those things yeah uh just make some material difference uh for your own enjoyment so that that’s Tim that’s what I that’s what I would say I I love that advice for folks listening if you if that resonates with you but you’re not sure what to take off your plate here’s a a an easy exercise to do is you write out you know the different tasks that you’re doing and then quantify them in terms of how much would it cost to hire somebody to do that task so if it’s you know I’ll use fake numbers right if it’s a hundred dollar an hour task that maybe should stay on your plate if it’s a 15 an hour task those things probably should be you know delegated or outsourced because the opportunity cost of you know 10 hours of 15 an hour projects right or tasks is is that you’re giving up those hundred dollar an hour opportunities that you could be chasing after so yeah Alex I love what you’re saying because that I think that’s the the hardest thing for business owners to to let go of is the fear of what if they don’t do it as well as I do well if you’re if it’s a 15 hour task right it’s okay if they make a little mistake because it’s better than you spending a hundred dollars an hour doing it you know exceptionally well right right and in my world you know where I saw the size of my book of business materially grow year after year after year was after I was embracing that more and more and so um my own receipts from working attorney hours um are a fraction of what the total is now because you’ve involved other people you mentioned strategic time too so just having the ability to think and plan and connect dots in your head is invaluable right as you’re you’re looking at you know growing the the business as opposed to just doing the do so Alex sounds like you’ve been blessed with some incredible people who have helped you on your journey if they were all on the show here today what would you want to say to them thank you I couldn’t do it without you all and they they know that I I tell them that um uh and uh just very very proud of all the hard work that they do a lot of creativity um and a lot of very satisfied clients uh and that’s that’s our goal is to to help clients solve their problems get Solutions um having an attorney involved isn’t always a fun thing um and so just doing what we can to service them and I feel very privileged to be with a bunch of people who are very good at doing that awesome Alex it’s been a pleasure uh speaking with you today thank you so much for being on the show thanks for having me I appreciate it to everyone who tuned in thanks for listening to the self-made as a missed show with your host coach Tim campsel be sure to help us spread the movement by liking the show and uh talking about it on your social media and to join our movement go to bemadtogether.com all right folks that’s a wrap make sure to pay it forward and I’ll see you all next time take care