How Matthew Geekie went from trial lawyer to SVP and General Counsel of Graybar.
By Jill Yarberry-Laybourn
Collaboration as a Compass
Being part of bringing people together is a major component of Geekie’s preferred route, making Graybar a natural fit. “[Graybar] has a stellar reputation in terms of its management team… how it treats, appreciates and takes care of its employees, its retirees… what it does for the community, what it does to protect all those things, those constituencies that Graybar holds dear. It really is a unique organization.”
A lot of companies talk about developing a culture that is both familial and challenging, but at Graybar and in Geekie’s department, “they walk the walk.” The proof is in the pudding, so to speak, as the current employee population has an average of 12 years of service with the company. While Geekie has been with Graybar for five-plus years, he still calls himself a “newbie.” He credits the company’s employee longevity to solid management and employees that care for one another. In his department, they make sure to have monthly meetings that not only cover imperative issues facing the company, but time for dinner and conversation covering family life, hobbies and one another’s everyday lives.
Likewise, Graybar and Geekie agree, keeping staff content is a priority. In his department, Geekie believes in and implements “cross-pollinating.” He allows and encourages the lawyers on his team to work in new fields and subject areas of interest, which often yields results in growth and employee satisfaction.
Cool, Calm & Collected
Geekie’s success as SVP and General Counsel can be attributed to many factors, including mentors who have given him some sound advice: “Remain calm, whatever it is. Things will be okay. No matter what the storm is, it will be okay.”
When legal counsel staff members come into his office panicked, he guides them to a window and tells them to pay attention. While they often look at Geekie like he is in left field, he points out that “the world is still turning;everything is going to be okay.”
While staying calm is Geekie’s modus of operandi, he gives young legal minds a bit of advice to keep the storms at bay: avoid surprises. “It is the job of in-house counsel to try to not only look down the road but look around the corner—what is up and coming—so we can anticipate the good news and the bad news and let everyone know, ‘This is what we see coming down the pike.’ To the extent I can avoid it, I never want to surprise anyone with bad news—that’s just, to me, a cardinal sin.”
While this is the best laid plan, he admits it does not always come to fruition so neatly. Hence Geekie’s second piece of advice for professionals at any stage in their careers: be over-prepared. “… Just when you think you know it all and think you don’t need preparation or [you] can walk in cold,” Geekie advised, “you’re going to get bitten.”
Awards & Aspirations
This advice has paid off. The people at Graybar, including Geekie, are riding the express lane to success. The group recently and repeatedly has been awarded the title of one of the “World’s Most Admired Companies” by Fortune magazine, along with a 2013 “Greenest of the Green” title from tED magazine.
While the company is revered “as is,” Geekie and his team will continue to travel unchartered paths in order to “up their game.”
Jill Yarberry-Laybourn is a freelance writer based in Colorado