Orbitz Worldwide’s SVP, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary on the variety of approaches and shared qualities of successful professionals and teams.
Jim Rogers, Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary at Orbitz Worldwide, knows how to lead a strong team. Having begun his career in private practice and then moved in house, he appreciates the variety of ways in which people operate in order to be successful. He says he likes to encourage personal growth, even if that means someone might occasionally leave his department, or even the company.
“If you think that somebody is good, then you have the desire to give them lots of other responsibilities, even if it’s things they haven’t done before,” he said. “I certainly see that here, and I try to help develop that with all my people.”
Orbitz Worldwide is a leading global online travel company that uses innovative technology to enable leisure and business travelers to search for, plan and book travel products and services, including airline tickets, hotels, car rentals, cruises and vacation packages. Rogers has been in his current role since August 2012, and he is responsible for leading the company’s global legal team.
Unlocking Potential, Together
He explains key factors for achieving one’s potential: “As long as you’re willing to learn, you have an intellectual curiosity and you’re willing to dig in, then the opportunities to grow and expand are unlimited.”
These are the traits he looks for in his people and how he approaches growth in his own career. He has taken on the responsibility for compliance and for corporate communications, noting that, “compliance is an area that is relatively new for me, and I’ve had to dig into it an awful lot.”
Rogers likes to hire very smart people. “If you hire somebody at the outset that you think is really talented, that’s great because then the presumption is in their favor, that you trust them,” he said.
He manages his team primarily by spending one-on-one time with them, during which they “go through substantive matters… and I dig a little deeper and ask some tough questions.”
While it can be hard to make time for these meetings, Rogers does it because they reap valuable rewards. “How people respond to those tough questions is the single biggest way that you can see the measure of the person,” he said, “because you can see how their minds work and whether they’ve thought generally about the issues.”
The majority of communication at the company is done orally, “so sitting and talking becomes a very important part of the whole thing,” Rogers said. This is different from his earlier experience as a corporate partner at Latham & Watkins, where communication more frequently came through written work.
Along with hiring talented people, Rogers works to encourage teamwork. “At some level, a lot of it stems from the tone at the top. I like to say we’re all pulling in the same direction and for the same team,” he said.
One important way that Rogers reinforces this environment lies in how he deals with mistakes. When the inevitable problem happens, he explained, “Good lawyers and good communicators don’t waste time figuring out who to blame. They figure out how to fix it.”
Instead of trying to protect themselves and hide from responsibility, people get to work deconstructing and fixing the mistake, efficiently resolving the issue at hand. This, according to Rogers, is part of teambuilding. Additionally, he makes it a point to institute the occasional fun outing, such as getting together monthly outside of the office and hosting the annual Christmas party at his house.
Plan for Your Practice
Having spent quite a bit of his career in private practice, Rogers has found that something he appreciates about being in house now is the opportunity to “do so many different kinds of things.”
“You’re called upon all the time to get involved in business issues and make decisions, help make things happen, and help resolve problems,” he said.
Rogers enjoys getting to take on a variety of responsibilities outside the constraint of the billable hour. His advice to young lawyers wishing to move from private practice to in-house work, though, is to make sure to know the differences between the two. One major difference Rogers cited is the lack of time when working in house. In private practice, lawyers are expected to do extensive research and writing, whereas in house, “there is a lot of working on the fly.”
Clarify & Simplify for Good Business
Rogers has learned from all different kinds of people throughout his career, and continues to do so. Something he took from past coworkers that really resonated with him was the value of being able to see the important issue, when sometimes it can be buried in other facts and details.
He has gotten good at “being able to reduce things to relatively more simple concepts—to express oneself clearly, concisely, in terms that laypeople can understand.” The importance of this skill has illustrated itself numerous times for Rogers. Even when dealing with very smart people like those at Orbitz, they are not all lawyers, and it is the duty of Rogers and his team to provide clear, well-communicated guidance.
Earlier in his career, Rogers represented a family who had owned a local telephone, cable and wireless company for generations. He provided great service to them, and he understood that in order to do so, he would need to explain to these clients the big issues and how the process would work in terms that they would understand.
“If you’re insecure with your intellectual ability, you may try to hide behind complicated and confusing terms and make things sound really hard for a non-lawyer to understand,” he said. “But if you’re not, you want to clarify and simplify—and boy, is that important in business.”
Furthermore, this practice style contributes to why Rogers likes working in house. “It really does get down to the desolation of here is what’s really important and what it’s all about,” he said. “And in private practice, you often have to spend a disproportionate amount of time on a lot of the nuance and detail because you’ll be writing for an audience of other high-powered lawyers or a judge.”
Rogers offers some parting advice for budding lawyers looking to get ahead: While it is important to be recognized for your successes, do not be a self-promoter.
“If you’re focused on trying to impress the people you work with, then you will fail,” he said. “If instead you focus on trying to get the best results you can and add the most value, then ultimately you will impress the people around you. If you can really get engaged and come up with good, creative solutions, people will be impressed.” ♦
After leaving TLC Vision and before joining Orbitz, Rogers decided to take some time off to be with his family and to embark on a bike ride from Saint Louis to Washington, D.C. When he started at TLC Vision, he still lived in D.C., commuting five days a week to Saint Louis. This arrangement meant that he didn’t get to bike often.
Rogers didn’t want to spend his weekends home away from his family on long rides, so at the suggestion of his Assistant GC, he got a bike in Saint Louis and rode at lunch and after work. Mechanics at the bike shop frequently commented on what a great bike it was, so when it came time to move back to D.C., Rogers thought, “Well, why don’t I just keep it?”
“It was really too much trouble to ship it, so I just rode it home. I had done some so-called century bike rides, where you ride 100 miles in a day, and those were pretty tiring. But I thought, if you do about 80 miles in a day, you just kind of relax. You’re not in a race. You don’t have to go fast. Why not?” Rogers recalled. “I got to see some of the country, and I made a little fundraiser out of it for Appleseed, a nonprofit for which I’m on the Board—raised a little money for them, and had a lot of fun. People rode with me about half the time, which was also fun.”
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