Robert Ackerman | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Robert Ackerman


Magna Legal Services provides jury consulting, discovery services, trial graphics, focus groups, mock trials, reporters and translators to law firms, corporations and government agencies across the country.  The company is headquartered in Philadelphia and has offices in Las Vegas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston and Washington, D.C., among other cities. 

The Mistake:  

I should have let the lawyers handle it.

The business that we sold in 1998 was a big deal for us and a nice deal for [the company we sold to]. We thought we were doing the right thing, and they thought they were doing the right thing. Then at the closing, we found out that they were not going to pay us commission on certain products that we were going to sell, which was a big part of the deal.  

I was the spokesman and negotiator for our company, so I brought it to their attention at the closing, and they got very angry that I would even bring up the subject.  

During this battle, the lawyers said we should probably step outside. We stepped outside and they said, "Calm down. Calm down." And I was like, "I am calm! They are screaming and yelling at me. What do you want me to do?"

I said, "I am out of here." Another partner said, "I am doing it no matter what." And the third partner said, "Whatever Bob wants to do, I am going to do it."  

So the second partner, who said he was going to do it no matter what, said, "Let's go back in there. I'll handle it going forward." And we said, "OK." 

At the first question they asked him, he turned to me and said, "What about that, Bob?" I was put on the spot, and I responded in the most cautious way I could, "That's not really what we discussed."

They started screaming again, and I said to myself, "Why am I doing this deal again?"  

The lawyers jumped in at that point, and when the lawyers got involved, they straightened the thing out. They came up with a reasonable alternative. 

 Let the lawyers deal with the acrimony and keep out of it. 

The Lesson:  

Don't make it personal.  

Whether it is negotiating for products, whether it is negotiating a new employee onboard or wanting ... or any situations where there is potential acrimony, let the lawyers deal with the acrimony and keep out of it.  

What I should have done when I went back in that room and my partner turned to me, I should have looked to the lawyer and said, "You explain what the problem is."  

Going forward, I don't negotiate face to face. I always make sure that my lawyer negotiates the deal for us. In other words, I put layers in between so it doesn't get personal. I don't want to tell somebody, "You're not worth what you think you're worth." I let my lawyer tell their lawyers and their lawyers can tell them. It's more diplomatic.   


Follow Magna Legal Services on Twitter at @magnalegalserv.  

Photo courtesy of Robert Ackerman