An Easy Act to Follow
Lloyd E. Shefsky’s irregular path to consulting entrepreneurs around the world
Published in 2016 Illinois Super Lawyers magazine
on January 4, 2016
Updated on February 6, 2016
It was the end of the semester in high school drama class and students had to perform their assigned scenes. Having just completed his take on Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, Lloyd E. Shefsky fielded a critique from his fellow students and then looked to his teacher for additional notes.
“Lloyd,” he began, “I think you’d be better at directing than acting.”
Ouch. The comment stung at first, but Shefsky would come to appreciate it years later when he segued from a full-time lawyer into a consultant, educator, adviser, author and occasional partner to entrepreneurs around the globe.
“It was a clear message of what I shouldn’t do, but also of what I should do,” he says. “And I think directing, coaching, advising—whatever you want to call it—is what I do best.”
Shefsky got his start at Grossman, Kasakoff, Magid and Silverman in 1965, where, in addition to securities law and tax law, he did a bit of everything. “I literally did one divorce, one adoption, one criminal matter, everything you can imagine except for admiralty law, which we don’t have much of around here,” he says, adding that he went on to create the Sports Lawyers Association, which now boasts more than 1,800 members.
In 1970, Shefsky created Shefsky & Froelich, where he eventually moved into an of counsel role. The firm merged with Taft Stettinius & Hollister in 2014. The majority of his time is spent fostering entrepreneurship and consulting with large family businesses and startups. He also teaches at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
“I really like practicing the law, but I wanted something more,” he says of his diverse career. “I liked the business consulting part of what I did, maybe even more than the lawyering part. … But law itself never fades away,” he says. “It’s always there in everything I do. That training and education comes back to help.”
After nearly 20 years of teaching at Kellogg, and helping found the school’s Center for Executive Women and its Center for Family Enterprises, Shefsky plans to step down this September. He’ll consult, write and contribute to the various entrepreneurial projects he’s involved with as a partner and/or member of the board of directors—“but always with other people, because I really don’t like managing things,” he says. “I’m a good coach, but I don’t manage well. There are much smarter people out there than me to run the business.”
Shefsky wrote the book on the topic. Entrepreneurs Are Made Not Born, published in 1995, seeks to provide insights on the qualities of an innovative businessperson.
“The most I would find [in other books] was somebody who had a bunch of characteristics in a list and treated it like a recipe book,” he says. “‘If you gathered the following characteristics and put it in the oven, out would come an entrepreneur.’ It was pretty clear to me you could mix those same characteristics and out might come a great concert violinist or great athlete or anything else. There was clearly something more involved, and that started my research.”
Like his previous book, 2014’s Invent Reinvent Thrive centered on case studies from several successful entrepreneurs and those who run family businesses, emphasizing the need to constantly evolve in order to succeed. Rather than critical acclaim or sales receipts, what stands out to Shefsky are messages from those he’s inspired to create startups and the excitement of the process.
“Years ago, when I was practicing, I worked with a medical group. I used to say I go a little overboard helping them because I want to help them do what I can never do, which is save a life. And the same is true [with other businesses] in that they’ll help the world in some way,” he says. “The truth is: Everything I’m doing is exciting stuff. There’s no reason in the world I’d want to stop.”