Robert Tyson | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Robert Tyson


Headquartered in San Diego, Tyson & Mendes is one of the west’s largest insurance defense law firms, with offices in California, Arizona, Nevada, Washington and Colorado. In 2011, Tyson won the multibillion-dollar California Supreme Court Case Howell v. Hamilton Meats, which held that an injured plaintiff is only allowed to recover the amount paid for medical bills, rather than the bigger figure billed to insurance companies.

The Mistake:

Not trusting my gut.

I had been working at a bigger firm in San Diego as a lawyer for several years when I decided I wanted to open an office in San Diego for a Los Angeles law firm. I felt I needed a partner, so I asked another associate if he wanted to pitch the idea with me. I knew him — we worked at the same firm — but after talking with him, I had this feeling in my gut that I shouldn’t do it with him. He looked good on paper, though, and we needed that to impress the L.A. firm.

The L.A. firm did end up letting the two of us open a San Diego office, but my gut ended up being right, and things didn't end well. We had become the face of the L.A. firm’s San Diego office, and it was too late to say “he’s out.”

If my gut says 'no' to something, then it’s a 'no.'

The Lesson:

I ultimately learned that I always have to go with my gut — but then verify. If my gut says “no” to something, then it’s a “no.” If it says “yes,” I do further research to try to back that up, to make sure it makes sense. I don’t want to open an office just because I feel that it’s right, for example. I need to make sure it makes financial sense, among other things.

The greatest example of a time I followed my gut’s “yes” feeling happened two years later, when I was able to convince my best friend, Pat Mendes, to join me. For several years, my gut had been telling me, “I want to be partners with my good buddy,” so I followed through on that. He’s been my law partner for 15 years now.

My gut has also always told me to be fair and transparent with people. When you do that, people get on board. For example, I have meetings with the lawyers here every two weeks, and once a year we’ll have a "State of the Firm" address. We’ll tell them how many hours were billed and what we’re trying to do next year — things like that. I got a lot of pushback in the beginning because other privately-held law firms typically don’t do that unless you’re a partner. But my gut has always been to disclose, and it’s worked out.

Photo courtesy of Tyson & Mendes.

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