I had the pleasure to interview Rahul B. Patel. As Managing Partner of Patel Gaines, PLLC, Rahul leads the fifth fastest growing law firm in the nation. Focusing on commercial and civil litigation, commercial real estate law, property tax litigation and corporate and business law, Rahul and his team of innovative legal minds create solutions for complex client needs. Patel Gaines, serving clients across the State of Texas with offices in San Antonio, Houston and Fort Worth, is contemporizing the structure of traditional law firms, delivering creative solutions and proven results, with a high level of service. In addition to his role with Patel Gaines, Rahul also serves as founder and CEO of FSM (Fundamental Sports Management, LLC), which he launched in 2018. Rahul leads a dream team of professionals, retired athletes and sports industry veterans with a vision and mindset to change how professional athletes are represented. FSM provides sports marketing, brand development, contract negotiation, endorsements opportunities and more. In 2017, Rahul co-launched PG Commercial, LLC, a real estate development firm focused on strategic commercial development opportunities in the San Antonio metropolitan area. A dynamic communicator and visionary leader, Rahul is a sought-out speaker for organizations across the country. He thrives on making a difference through his strategic entrepreneurial ventures. As a mentor to young professionals across many industry sectors, Rahul is motivated by educating and inspiring others. Rahul serves the community through numerous organizations. Most recently, he was appointed to the board of directors of the nonprofit organization, Alamo Angels, a group of business leaders focused on local entrepreneurial business growth through building and educating the startup ecosystem in San Antonio and beyond. Rahul earned his Juris Doctorate degree from Western Michigan University Cooley Law School and a Bachelor of Business Administration in marketing from The Ohio State University — The Max M. Fisher College of Business. Rahul has served as an adjunct professor at the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, where he taught hospitality law. Rahul is a leading attorney and entrepreneur in the State of Texas. He has been featured in USA Today, Forbes, Money, BusinessWeek, San Antonio Business Journal, CBS and NBC. He’s also been recognized through numerous awards including, Super Lawyer and Top 100 Lawyers, San Antonio Business Journal Man of the Year, 40 Under 40, C-Suite Awards, Best Places to Work, San Antonio Magazine Faces of San Antonio, among others. To learn more about Rahul, visit www.rahulbpatel.com.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Myaspirations to be a CEO and lead a law firm began as early as the 8th grade. I still have a letter that I wrote in school about it. My drive to be a successful entrepreneur began from the genesis to exceed what was expected of me and to be different. As a child, I grew up in a rough part of town; I wasn’t necessarily the kid that was expected to succeed, so all of those factors motivated me to work harder to get to where I am today. I was determined to defy the odds and prove others wrong. I also felt I had a gift and affinity for problem-solving, a passion for helping others and a strong desire to change my trajectory, as well as that of those around me.
As far as my role as founder and CEO of sports management agency FSM (Fundamental Sports Management), I am a huge basketball fan and was incredibly disheartened that these impressive athletes could play for years, have remarkable careers and then retire from the basketball court in debt and without any assets. As a lawyer and dedicated fan, I realized that I had the expertise, the access and the tools to help them be successful, and that is exactly what we work to do every single day at FSM.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
As many entrepreneurs and CEOs leading startup companies or new businesses have experienced, funds and access to capital can quickly become a very serious obstacle and one that almost completely changed my narrative. About six months into the Patel Gaines law firm, my business partner and I realized that the well had run dry.
I turned to my friends and family and where I expected to receive criticism, instead I was met with encouragement and inspiration to continue pushing forward. But, it is up to you to find a way to fund it and keep the dream alive. This was a pivotal time in my career and a moment when I learned one of the most significant lessons of being in the C-suite — when things get tough, double down on your efforts. You can’t back down in the face of adversity.
As a C-suite executive there will be a lot of punches thrown your way — you’ll lose clients, you’ll gain clients, you’ll lose a team member that’s critical to your operation — it happens. But, it’s how you respond in these situations that will shape your future. So be ready to rise to the occasion, keep your head up high and keeping fighting the good fight. It can and will change your life!
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
What I attribute my career success to, whether it be in my role as managing partner of a law firm or the founder of a sports management agency, is that I never view it as a house of numbers; I see it as a house of people. Your clients, colleagues, team members — they come to you because they need you and your responsibility is to take the challenges on for the team.
In addition, I can’t stress enough the importance of having integrity at the very heart of every single business decision you make. If someone doesn’t need something, don’t sell it to them — it’s that simple. Do what is best for your clients, your colleagues, your team members, and you too will find success.
I recommend never losing sight of the big picture. Set your horizons on the future. While it is so easy to get lost in the day-to-day, never take your eyes off where you want to be five years from now, even ten years from now. And most importantly, don’t forget to make time for the “big thinking” and devising your path forward. You have to continually ask yourself, “Where do I want to go? How do I plan on getting there?” It is a constant journey, and one that breeds success.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
There is no such thing as a day off.
So many people think that once they reach that C-suite role that their day-to-day will consist of delegating and that they’ll be able to focus on the bigger picture. I was one of those people. Boy, did that myth get busted pretty quickly. You will always be consulted to assess situations, to make the final call. If you take a day off, know that you may not be able to entirely go off the grid. You hold the keys to decisions made and oftentimes you will be needed to lead and help propel the business forward.
While the team may be a pull, you may also have a hard time shutting work off yourself. For example, this past summer things were really heating up on all fronts and each of my companies was reaching its own peak. I was in desperate need of a breather, just a short weekend away at the beach with my family. Booked the flights, packed our suitcases and put our gear into vacation mode. I’d brought a book, LeBron, Inc: The Making of a Billion-Dollar Athlete with me — that book had been on my mind and I finally had some time to sit and read it. As I read though, I just kept finding new bits of wisdom and inspiration for my sports management agency FSM. What if I did this? How could we apply this principle to what we do? And just like that there I was, sitting on a beach chair in Cancún, making calls, sending emails and putting my new ideas into motion all the way from paradise.
Now keep in mind, to some it may seem sad that I was at the beach working, but to me, it was refreshing and reinvigorating to have these exciting new thoughts and ideas. When you are passionate about what you do, work doesn’t always feel like work — an unexpected upside to C-suite life. You may work all the time, but hopefully and most likely, you will love every second of it!
You are responsible for people like never before.
So few realize that leaders have to address the human side of being a CEO. While you may be top in your field, the reality of CEO life is that managing people is a substantial part of what you do. You have to be adept at that side of things as well! You have an entire team of people, sometimes hundreds or even thousands, that look to you for guidance, leadership and direction. Their families, careers, livelihood are all dependent on you. That is a huge responsibility placed on your shoulders. And while it can feel like a heavy load at times, welcome it. It is a gratifying role indeed.
We’ve had team members facing very serious health challenges or divorces and while that may not seem like a traditional challenge for a CEO, it is. Life events can have significant impact on a team member’s performance. Those struggles will become your own. I wanted to be there to support those team members in their times of need and help them through those difficult times. It’s impossible not to care about these people that give so much of their lives to you and your business. I honestly believe that the true mark of leadership success is when a team member trusts you enough to bring these out-of-office challenges to you. It’s the sign of a true leader, great boss and trusted friend.
Never stop re-investing in your company.
Reinvest, reinvest, reinvest! Double down on your investment and reinvest as much as you can into your business and your team to grow, evolve and build a great company. Invest in your talent, technology, physical space and team environment. This principle can mean the difference between shutting your doors in five years and expanding into new markets — it’s that big of a deal. If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have,” it applies to your organization as well as your wardrobe!
When I think about this lesson, there are two major moments that stand out to me. One was when we were the brink of losing one of our top lawyers. Her spouse was given an incredible opportunity in Houston, Texas, that they couldn’t turn down and we were faced with the possibility of losing this critical member of our team. We had two choices here — we could expand our San Antonio offices into Houston, which we knew would be a very significant investment, or we could wish her luck in her next endeavor. My law partner and I sat down and went back to the principle that had gotten us this far — double down and reinvest. The Houston office was a superb next step for us and elevated our firm to new heights. Today, that amazing lawyer is still leading our Houston office and making giant waves with her efforts.
Another time this approach really paid off was when we decided to bring on our first full-time marketing position. This was a huge step for us and one that most law firms never dabble in — marketing, ewww! We looked at our business and while we didn’t necessarily have enough work for that position to be full-time yet, we thought again of that phrase, “Dress for the job that you want.” That one marketing person took things and ran with them. We now have a team of six in marketing and they have made significant impacts in our organization. We wouldn’t be the same firm without them. Again, a chance, new cost, but you absorb that through your growth!
Keep your eye on the horizon.
Where do you want to be in five years or ten years? It sounds like such a generic question — like one of those questions they asked at your first job interview — but this is one of the most important questions that you will ever ask yourself as a CEO. This question needs to be top of mind at all times. It is easy to get mired in the day-to-day, but forecasting and planning for five or ten years from now will help lay the groundwork for your larger plans. Time passes quite quickly when reaching the C-suite level, so you have to actively work to keep your eyes on the horizon.
A few years ago, our Patel Gaines law firm was in the midst of some real, good growing pains. There’s no other way to say it — we were jam-packed in our current office space and it was time to invest in a larger physical location. In our initial micro-thinking, we wanted to solve the problem immediately, thinking of this decision as simply the commitment to a new physical space. Maybe we just buy out the office next door or maybe we look into this new building across town.
The decision was weighing on me and I decided to clear an afternoon to get some clarity. As I was driving, watching these buildings pass by, it dawned on me — we are a real estate law firm that also handles property tax. How could we claim that we were just as invested in this industry as our clients when we didn’t even have our own real estate investment?
From that moment on, we looked at that move as a definition of our firm and reinvested by building an office unique to our needs and team. We have now been in this new space for more than a year and the feedback on it internally, from clients and from our partners has been more rewarding than I could have ever expected. When someone new pulls up to our office, they immediately get it — we know the real estate industry, we know property tax, these guys get it. One simple decision to reinvest, and countless positive outcomes because of it.
Be transparent above all else.
Transparency is one of those things that a lot of companies tend to lose along the way, but I have found it to be a key tenant to finding success as a CEO and also as an organization. This applies to both clients or customers, and also your internal team.
Internally, the best way to keep everyone on the same page and working toward the same goals is to disclose what some consider only high-level information. With our Patel Gaines team, we made it a point to share it all — financials, moving plans, expansion plans, losses, wins. It’s been integral to our success as a company and my success as a leader. If the team understands your current standing and the ten-year plan as you do, then they better understand what you’re working toward and can align with that strategy.
On the client or customer side, being truthful and transparent has earned us trust, which in turn, results in more business. Invest in your clients and their best interest. If we don’t think a client should do something, we recommend that they don’t do it, even if it would be helpful to our own business. Doing the right thing will never steer you wrong. While you may not get that initial payoff by pointing them in another direction, you’re investing in a long-term relationship of trust and respect. That is what will really make the difference at the ten-year mark. (Remember — always keep your eye on the horizon? Just testing you!)
One way that I exercise this practice is by integrating a strategic business coach into my companies. This person is an unbiased third party that promotes transparency and keeps the team’s lines of communication open. Team members may feel more comfortable disclosing information to a third party versus directly to their leadership. The info is then relayed back to me in an anonymous fashion.
For instance, one of my teams felt like I was out of touch with what was happening in their realm of the business. Our strategic coach came to me and said, “Let’s schedule a meeting with team A. They’ve been expressing some new developments that would be helpful for you to be looped in on.” He was able to solve that problem for our team and alleviate the tension; something that could have gone on for months without being brought to my attention. That internal transparency has provided a very comfortable work environment for all of us, promoting long-term commitment to the company.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Communication is the key to thriving in a C-suite role. People often think that it gets lonely at the top, but it doesn’t have to be. And if you want to continue in such a high-level role, you have to make good communication and engagement with like-minded colleagues a priority. Share with others the challenges that you’re facing. More than likely, they’ve encountered the same situations! Not only can they relate, but they can provide insights and advise. That’s priceless. I’ve created a mini peer group of people that I met through community involvement, board positions and other capacities — people I don’t work with or for — and we meet once a month for dinner. It doesn’t need to be a large group — mine consists of just four people — but it has made a huge impact in my life and career.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My success would not have been possible without my wife. She has been such a powerful force in my life and career. When my law partner and I hit a complete brick wall six months after opening our law firm, which was my very first C-suite role, my wife is the primary reason that I didn’t give up. I was ready to fold. The money had run out and the original sources that had gotten us to that point were running low. I was tired, browbeaten and had just met with a close friend who’d said, “Okay, when are you going to call it quits?”
I went home that night with every intention of giving up and shutting our doors. I remember sitting down with my wife to tell her, fully expecting a hug and support in the face of rejection, but I never got that. I got an inspirational pep talk. She challenged me to push past this barrier. She was so right and I will forever be grateful to her for her courage, strength and motivation during that tough period in our journey. Today, Patel Gaines is the fifth fastest growing law firm in the nation and its success has allowed me to explore additional dreams and opportunities, including the founding of my sports management agency FSM.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Effective leadership is something I admire greatly and I feel it’s one of those skills that you should never stop aspiring for. I want to get better and better! When you are in a C-suite role, people look up to you like never before. I want to better understand my team and my clients. What’s driving their decisions? What’s driving their desires? The more I hone my leadership skills, the greater a difference I will be able to make and the more I will be able to give back to others.
Another goal of mine is to find more quiet time in my life. At the beginning, you have all the time in the world to think, because there’s not much else going on. When you reach this level in your career, it seems like time is just stretched so thin between work, family and life. I’ve started building regimented time into my week to just think. I’m trying to set a couple of hours aside each Sunday, before my children are even up yet, to give myself the luxury of quiet time. It’s in those few, cherished moments that you come up with the big ideas, the game-changers. And those are golden!
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
This is such an interesting question, because my answer has evolved with each winding turn of my journey. I used to have these grandiose goals that I was going to single-handedly change the world. When you ask me today, I hope that my lasting legacy will be my children, my team members and my clients — and what they will do for this world. I would hope that I’ve positively impacted their lives and that whatever incredible things that they do, and I have no doubt that those things will be incredible, that I may have contributed to that success in some small way. Helping, guiding and preparing them to make positive change in the world. That will be my lasting legacy.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
It would be really neat to build a movement that motivates people to believe in themselves and to just go for it. There have been so many times in my career that I could have let my doubts prevent me from making it happen. Imagine all of the incredible things that would be out there if more people were brave enough to take their ideas and go for them. Just imagine if they were to share them and give them room to grow. So many ingenious ideas go unrealized because we may think we can’t do it, or we’re not sure the ideas are innovative enough, cool enough, original enough, etc. Imagine a world where all of these ideas could become realities. Now that would be a movement — just go for it! It’s pretty exciting to ponder.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I am really active on LinkedIn and also Instagram! Follow me or connect with me, Rahul B. Patel, via the below handles:
LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/in/rahul-b-patel/
Instagram — @TheOfficialRBP