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How does she do it? $65M rainmaker says she’s not a natural salesperson

Posted Jun 13, 2013 7:19 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Nina Gussack. Photo from
Pepper Hamilton.

Pepper Hamilton partner Nina Gussack is responsible for $65 million in business, about 20 percent of the law firm’s total revenue. But Gussack says she’s not a natural salesperson.

“For me, it's a challenge every time,” Gussack tells the Careerist. “There's always that fear of rejection. Getting that first pickle out of the jar is the hardest.”

Persistence helps, says Gussack, who recently stepped down as chair of the firm’s executive committee. “You have to ask for the business, and you have to let the client know that you can handle things. “There's a big difference between having a conversation with a client and asking for business. Women stop short of asking for business. I tell young women that you have to be the best substantively, but that you also have to put yourself out there and inject yourself in the client's orbit. It's true: You have to ask 20 times to get one [client]. You need to develop a thick skin.”

Gussack tells the Careerist that the firm’s chair emeritus, Ned Madeira, was her mentor. She sought him out at the law firm because he worked on pharmaceutical matters, her area of interest. “He was ambitious for me, he urged me to take risks, and he raised my profile with clients,” she says. She adds that his help shows that mentors don’t have to be from the same background.

“People make the mistake that the mentor has to look like them or share the same background,” Gussack says. “Ned was my mentor, though he had never worked closely with a woman—certainly not a Jewish woman. He was a WASP Mainline prototype. Sometimes the best mentors are people who are not in your comfort zone.”

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