Nelson Wilians: law, business and success

por The Winners

Nelson Wilians, lawyer, graduated in 1993 by the Toledo Education Institution, partner and founder of the Nelson Wilians Group, which brings together several companies, including a stockbroker branch and the “jewel on the crown”, ‘Nelson Wilians Advogados’, the largest law firm in Latin America, spoke to The Winners Economy & Law about law, economics, business and success.

The Winners Economy&Law – Your office is one of the largest in the world, how did you start this construction?

Nelson Wilians – I like to say that what differs courage from madness are the results. Today, 20 years later, NWADV – Nelson Wilians Advogados is the largest “full service” law firm in Latin America. Now, two decades after open my first office, people say that I was crazy dreaming of having an office in all Brazilian capitals, with branches in different countries. At first, I was crazy – today I hear many saying that I am brave.

Obviously, it was not an easy task. I was born in a small town in countryside of Paraná state (Jaguapitã). My parents were small farmers with pour education (2nd year elementary). I was the first in my family to attend university. With great sacrifice, I graduated in Law School at Instituto Toledo de Ensino, in Bauru (SP). Without pride, at the age of 22, I was traveling by bus and took me a year, after graduating, to buy my first car, an old Fiat Panorama. Before I was 30, I could buy my second aircraft.

All achieved by exercising corporate law. Money was never my only motivation, even at the beginning of my career – when I had to go out with a pack of bad checks from a client, to collect from those who did not pay gas station bills, using a borrowed room. A physician, friend of mine, had an office and he allowed me to use the space while he was working in a large company, every day until 4 pm.

The funniest thing, at that time, was the reaction of people, my customers, because in the place, a law office, they could see a stretcher, stethoscopes and other medical devices. At that time, the final goal was another. Success is important, but I believe work has to do with more other issues: developing skills, responsibilities and purposes. The aim to impact lives and actively participate in the construction of a better Brazil. Has always led me to overcome and follow my dreams.

Here I remember an Aristoteles’ quote: “Courage is the first of human qualities because it guarantees all others”. To be an entrepreneur takes courage. Is fundamental. The leap in my career came from a combination of courage and opportunity.

TWE&L – What most impressed you on this journey when you look in the rearview mirror?

NW – In my lectures to law students, from different country regions, I like to share my story. However, at the same time, advice the future legal operators that it can be just a reference, not a model to apply today because technology has changed professional and personal relationships, the law has changed and society is now at another level of awareness and needs.

What was good for me, in the past, may not work for someone else actually. Is worth mention that, most business’ success stories begin with a big amount of failures, as examples: Walt Disney, Harley-Davidson, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey and many others that have become cases of overcoming. They are just there to remind us that success does not come without a large dose of persistence.

Regardless of the adverse score, it takes a lot of enthusiasm to get up after countless failed attempts, many times as necessary. Howard Shultz, for example, was born in a humble family. Lived in Brooklyn neighborhood, New York, his father was a truck driver. Thanks to a rejected idea, he became the owner of Starbucks. Working in a coffee beans trade company, had a bold attitude, he tried to persuade his superiors that the company would also start selling ready-made coffee and create a space for social interaction.

They rejected the idea, and then he decided to open his own coffee shop. Later he bought Starbucks and opened stores around the world with a refined business model. These stories show that adverse conditions and failures will not ruin your plans nor led you to defeat, you will always face many different obstacles that you can surpass with enthusiasm, as quoted by Churchill. He said: “Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm”.

NWADV started its growth dealing with tax questions during the 1990’s in view of 1988 new Constitution, after assume a national dimension, it became a “full service” office. In other words, we were big in the tax area and now we will be big in all areas of law. We are building the best professional teams in each area. On some of these we even acquire international recognition. For me, pursuing dreams, dedicating myself to that and being not limited to present conditions or limitations, is the key to changes.

This is what I try to exercise in our company, as a culture deeply rooted here. When I look at the history of the firm, how it was built, how guidelines are passed on to our employees and partners, I realize that many people work at NWADV because they came after a dream, to create a big company, the largest in Brazil. They believe in that dream. It is the power of all directed to the same objective, bringing a collective result but, at the same time, empowering each one.

The driving force behind this is our culture, our organization, the values that we replicate in an institutional way. I always want our employees to feel good, identify with the office’s goals and grow. To use the Pão de Açúcar (Big supermarket chain) slogan, NWADV ‘has to be a place for happy people’. This is part of our culture. Happy people produce, strive, enjoy what they do and work as a team.

TWE&L – When did you realize that you should transfer your headquarters to SP?

NW – I John Lennon once said that New York was the corner of the world, the place where everything happens. Then he decided to live there. São Paulo is the corner of Brazil, where a important part of GDP is produced, where legal issues gain relevance and the business world circulates. I started the office in Bauru and when we thought about expanding our operations, the state capital was the obvious route.

Here in SP, we gained mass to be able to go to other parts of the country. It is necessary to highlight the unity of our office, something that I have always thought and worked constantly to keep solid. When you go to a Banco do Brasil or a Bradesco branch, you find, anywhere, the same visual identity and work philosophy. We have the same here, the difference is that the issues dealt with, in each of our branches, can be very different.

We differentiate ourselves from others, as we give a personalized but, at the same time, regional treatment for each case, within the standard and culture that unites and identifies us. We face a plurality of environments. We have a branch at Acre state, for example, with a regional culture completely different from Rio Grande do Sul or Minas Gerais states.

In addition to this aspect, there is the excellence of our professionals, their dedicated and impeccable performance, the strength of our physical structure and all the technological resources we use to fully meet the needs of our customers. Whether through our headquarters in São Paulo or through any of our branches, we are able to provide our customers with excellent service in any region in the country.

Because, we have partners in all capitals and main cities. Being all over, is an important differential for corporations, also present across the country. As we are able to offer a uniform, standardized and quality legal service in all regions and, at the same time, having personal all over the country, undoubtedly, facilitates those corporations legal departments routine. We will ever be the law firm for Corporations that want this differential. All of our values are replicated to our partners and employees in all branches.

TWE&L – People normally say that success is luck, how do you define success?

NW – More than just luck, a number of factors contributed to my becoming to a fulfilled person in my profession. It is worth a caveat here on the question of luck. As Nelson Rodrigues said: “Without luck, you can’t even eat a Popsicle. You maybe can choke with the stick or get hit by the ice-cream cart “. A little luck helps. However, I believe more on opportunities. Life opens some doors for us.

If you missed an opportunity, be careful not to miss the next one. More than waiting for, it is necessary to create opportunities. Some doors only open as we walk towards them. For that, as I said above, first it takes courage to undertake. This is fundamental. The leap in my career came from a combination of courage and opportunity. Today we talk a lot about relationship network. This is, in fact, very important. Build relationships. My first clients were around me: the doctors at that clinic and their respective patients, who I was acquainted. After a while, I was advocating for most of them.

TWE&L – What about leadership?

NW –  One of the main executives’ goals is try to foresee how things happen to produce the safest models possible to make decisions. Not by chance, philosopher David Weinberger wrote that we humans have the impression that if we can understand the immutable laws of how things happen, we can predict, plan and manage the future perfectly. I am not a technologist, but I am curious to know how things happen.

I can’t get enough of repeating that words are convincing; but the examples, drag you. I see this almost daily in my network, in the corporate law area. Regardless the new tools used by highly successful entrepreneurs and executives, it is the way of relating these leaders with their teams, partners and customers that makes the wheel spin. However, in the Machine Learning era, we need to abandon our insistence on always understanding how things happen in our world, instead, we must keep insisting on understanding people.

Today I consider myself a good lawyer, but, mainly, an encourager of people and a problem solver what I think is expected of someone in my position. Within my companies, I try to maximi -ze the virtues of partners and collaborators and minimize their weaknesses.

TWE&L – In how many states is NWADV present in Brazil? And abroad?

NW – NWADV is the largest law firm in the country and in Latin America, with more than 1500 lawyers, approximately 12 thousand clients and more than 500 thousand active cases. We are in all capitals of the country, in the Federal District and in some strategic countryside cities.

Since 2014, NWADV has been included in the ranking of the largest law firms in Brazil by Análise da Advocacia 500 magazine – the most admired law firms and lawyers in Brazil pointed by the largest companies. On 2016, we started our internationalization process.

Today, we have representatives in several countries in Latin America, Asia and Europe. Whether working on highly strategic issues or litigation, NWADV inaugurated a new cycle in the office-client relationship, adding value and technical quality to the provision of legal services. Our trajectory is interesting as there is no other office in the country with similar characteristics. My merit was to build a great team of professionals passionate about what they do, being happy working for us.

From the beginning, the biggest concern was not only the focus on the work itself, but also on sharing the obtained results. We created a business model that works. An aggregating model. 

TWE&L – Today, is more difficult, to overcome the obstacles in the system, the bureaucracy and slowness of the judicial system or to manage a giant as the Nelson Wilians group?

NW – I am an optimist. I think we are on the right track. The judiciary has been modernized using new technologies that are helping to streamline processes. Obviously, there is much to improve and move forward. We are making progress, perhaps not at the speed that society wants, but we are moving in the right direction.

For our company, the biggest challenge is to continue growing, without losing our philosophy of valuing professionals, maintaining unity, and preserving our way of relationship with clients, with personality, efficiency, technical quality and good results. The NWADV is and will be ever the Corporations’ law firm that want this differential and for the people who seek outstanding legal advisory. The high legal complexity and the excess of bureaucracy demand new solutions.

A law firm, like ours, with great corporate and individual demands, would not be able to be efficiently accountable to its clients without taking over new technological solutions. We use automation systems for countless tasks. Management of ongoing processes, elaboration of general pieces and case law research are some of the tasks that robots already perform. This feature frees our professionals for more complex activities that require e human reasoning.

TWE&L – The authenticity you show is not common in the world of law firms: showing the wealth and pleasure of the financial results got from your professional life. Did that bring you any discomfort?

NW –  I am from the philosophic school created by Ayn Rand, a Russian philosopher and novelist. Reason-purpose-self-esteem. The bedside book of mine is ‘Atlas Shrugged’.  So this is a good question. There are entrepreneurs who graduated in law. I am a lawyer-entrepreneur. I do not represent the traditional Brazilian advocacy as it used to exist, with all due respect to my friends and professional colleagues. That simple. 

My goal is to understand what the corporate world needs to assist it in the solution. Therefore, I usually say: give us the contract and we will give you the solution. NWADV is not a one-man army. We are a team, a corporation with representation here and abroad. Obviously, in addition to our size, we also call attention to our different philosophy of internal management. Our performance and positioning could not take place in the same way as other large offices, without any demerit for them. Our reality is different.

We have become the largest office in this country. In charge of this office, I have a voice and representation. It can cause envy to others and for me, envy is not the feeling of wanting to have what you do not have – but want you not to have it. I do not hide myself, because the NWADV is highly qualified in all areas of law and our success comes from that. I am proud of our successful trajectory.

Our company invests, generates wealth, jobs and development, all within the strictest legality, so there is no reason to live hidden in the shadows. This does not mean that we have no difficulties, nor does it mean that we are “super-men” or “super-women”. We are courageous, resilient and capable.

In those moments that I have to talk about my trajectory with the auspicious argument that I triumphed, I remember a phrase from my mother when I was starting to have some success in my career and that puts me ‘stand’: “By the end, it doesn’t matter where a man was born. It doesn’t matter how he lives, but how life ends”. I keep this with me because, now and them, it makes me reflect. So far, I have been successful in my area of activity and every day I try to stay focused on keeping that. However, talking about my experience, I dare, in some way, willing to contribute to encourage professional growth and awaken the will to undertake and to be successful on the youngest. 

Nelson Wilians and Judge Geraldo Francisco Pinheiro Franco

TWE&L – Your wife, besides being a beautiful woman, is a business administrator, lawyer, president of the Nelson Wilians Institute, happy with life and everyone, a talented volunteer practitioner. Tell us something about her.

NW – Anne Wilians is my source of inspiration. She is a lawyer, business administrator and president of INWInstituto Nelson Wilians, the social arm of NWADV.   She is a person extremely committed to the development of social projects and passes this on to me. Words convince and examples drag. Never a saying has made such a difference in my life as it does with her at my side.

Now, in 2020, INW is three years of foundation. With a focus on social justice, the entity has already benefited more than 10,000 people in 20 Brazilian cities. INW has already developed several projects aimed on training citizens and social potentiation. 

Anne is a hard worker, tireless in her activities of social development, so that people, in a vulnerable condition, can have the power of decision and make choices about their own life. She is an example and inspiration for me and for all our partners and collaborators. She takes care of our children and family with mastery without neglecting anything.

Nelson Wilians and Anne Wilians

TWE&L – Do you believe Brazil has the ability to get out of this phase, which we have been skating in every way along the past few years and now with the Coronavirus?

NW – I do not say we are out of place. I think we are moving forward, although not at the desirable speed. We can remember the recently approval of the labor reform, the new social security rules and the anti-crime new laws. Congress has increased its control over the budget and prevented the disruption of consolidated public policies in recent decades.

The system of boundaries and counter measures between the powers of the Republic, largely, works. The government has also made progress in the area of infrastructure, with the privatization agenda, concessions and auctions for oil exploration and production. There is still a lot to do and to move forward, but the path, even if drawn slowly, seems correct.

The issues parallel to the economic ones, those provocative discussions between the powers of the Republic, these have indeed taken the focus away from the most relevant issues. The recent and unnecessary ‘quid pro quos’ between Executive Power and Congress, in the eyes of the market players, are symptoms that some pieces need to be fitted in order to resume economic growth. In this regard, however, serenity is always needed. Coronavirus will be overcome. There will be sacrifices, but we will overcome it.

TWE&L – Today, when we are doing this interview, the world has turned upside down. What measures will your office take instead?

 NW – We are not an island. In the same way as other companies within the determinations of health organizations, we will try to fit in with the objective of preserving and protecting the health of our employees, partners and customers.

Obviously, we hope that the commercial impact will not be long. Unlike other pandemics, the Coronavirus is affecting the world economy. This will undoubtedly have an impact on Brazilian growth, unfortunately, and on the balance sheet of companies. The main concern is to preserve lives and hope that the disease stays within controllable parameters. 

TWE&L – Do you believe that Brazil needs higher public investment in order to accelerate growth and economic development?

NW – The 2019 Gross Domestic Product grew 1.1% over the previous year. One of the items that make up the GDP – investment, grew by 2.2%.  Studies show that, in order to grow sustainably in the next ten years and to reduce poverty and unemployment, more structural reforms are necessary, especially on the size of the government machine.

For that, Executive Power and Congress need to move forward with the administrative reform agenda.

TWE&L – What about the reforms? Which, in your view, is more urgent, Political or Fiscal?

NW – Main reform is Tax Reform, they should started there. Also with a fiscal agenda, because there is not only the desired simplification of taxes. Expenses must be contained.

TWE&L – Have you always been optimistic about Brazil, does this feeling continue despite the low rate of economic growth?

NW – As I wrote in an article for the magazine Forbes-Brasil, I have been constantly visiting different regions branches of our office spread across all Brazilian states. These trips are not just a professional duty for me. They mainly represent a breath of fresh air, from which I often draw inspiration and courage to continue to undertake, as I have the opportunity to talk to people from the most different backgrounds and business specialties.

I tell you this to say that I have learned, through experience, to connect with other points of view, other realities. At each visit, I have the opportunity to meet people who have become a reference in their areas of expertise. Successful entrepreneurs, far from large urban centers. These trips take me out of the “own country’s prejudice circle”.

Sometimes, we are stuck in the territorial view of our navels. For this reason, I understand well the determination of these entrepreneurs who, even far from the Rio-São Paulo axis, thrive, become big and leave behind prefabricated models. For merits, competence and, of course, courage.

I take advantage of this space to exalt these entrepreneurs and show that, despite the economic difficulties, large groups born outside the main business hubs in the country, thanks to the dynamism and vision of entrepreneurship. This picture, which I see in various parts of the country, makes me optimistic, even in the face of many difficulties.

TWE&L – You are a party enthusiast, you like to receive friends and important people at home. Is this a relationship strategy or a pleasure?

NW – Obviously, at some point, the pleasure of receiving people and the business relationship intersect. The most important thing is that the people who come to my residence feel good and comfortable. That is my great pleasure. Receive, review the old and make new friends.

TWE&L – Can we do a Ping-Pong game? I indicate a list of names or things and you answer with a single word, a name or a grade from 0 to 10, as you prefer:

NW –

Personality: Ives Gandra Martins – a beloved master, one of the country’s moral reserves.

Restaurant in SP: La Tambuille

Place: my house and the island in Angra dos Reis

Friends: “I want to have a million friends”

Family: paradise and my safe haven

Sea: the green of Angra dos Reis

Money: a path

Power: ephemeral

Car: Bentley

Airplane: Embraer, for cost / benefit relation

Motorcycle: Harley-Davidson

Suits: Vasco Vasconcelos

Cigar: Cohiba

Meal: Piglet with rice

Drink: good quality beverages

Music: harmonic music that doesn’t hurt my ears.

TWE&L – What message would you let to our readers about Brazil today and in the future?

NW – Understand and believe.

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