In chemistry, a catalyst increases the rate and quality of a reaction. And so it is in law. Introduce the right attorney to the right people and you’ll ignite something special. Good people become better. Energy is released. Ideas are born.
Consider Ed Zimmerman, who chairs the tech group at the Roseland firm of Lowenstein Sandler, which focuses on venture capital/angel investments, IPOs, mergers and acquisitions, patents, licensing, outsourcing and IP litigation. By all accounts, Zimmerman is as smart and hardworking as they come. At 38 he heads a group of 45 attorneys. Many of his clients are entrepreneurs — extraordinarily driven people by nature — and even they are amazed at his ability to think strategically, remember everything and respond to email 24 hours a day. But a lot of people are smart and work hard. Zimmerman adds more.
He has a knack for elevating others. He introduces people, organizes them, motivates them, puts them together in a room, leads, listens — he probably does more listening than talking — and suddenly a fusion-like reaction occurs. Clients become friends. Business, leisure and charitable work blend. Associates, clients and friends may wind up at a wine tasting with Zimmerman. Or helping him raise money for charity. Or discussing how, or whether, to fund a young New Jersey company that could create new jobs.
“It’s overwhelming to see the number of brilliant people Ed has surrounded himself with,” says Matt Keiser, president and co-founder of Datran Media, a New York-based marketing company. “Normally a group of people like that, trying to get them to do anything is like herding cats — every one has so many important commitments. But Ed motivates them and organizes them and it’s amazing how he does it.”
Mark Kesslen, formerly the chief IP, technology and sourcing lawyer worldwide for JPMorgan Chase and now a member of Zimmerman’s tech group, calls Zimmerman “one of the greatest attorneys I have ever met. He’s got intelligence, drive and attention to detail and an amazing work ethic. Ed is definitely on my list of the smartest people I have come across.”
Zimmerman pursued Kesslen relentlessly for a full 10 years, finally convincing him to give up a world-class job, with a seemingly unlimited future, at JPMorgan.
“I came here because of Ed, no doubt about it,” says Kesslen. “Seeing what Ed built drove me here.”
Zimmerman grew up in the rough Canarsie section of Brooklyn. Though he attended a public magnet school program, he still had to navigate difficult territory. His sister was born with spina bifida and related disabilities and was confined to a wheelchair. His father worked three jobs to pay the medical bills. His mother served as volunteer president of the Spina Bifida Association of Greater New York. Because money was tight, the family lived with an aunt and a grandmother. The struggle was not lost on him.
“I grew up watching my family get trampled by the system and I wanted to be able to navigate it better,” he says. “I thought a law degree would be a useful tool.”
After high school he landed at Philadelphia’s Haverford College, a small, comfortable institution founded on the Quaker principles of peace and compassion. One day, as a sophomore, he watched as a member of the freshman class got out of her parents’ car on her first day at college.
“I thought, ‘This is the one,’” he says. “That’s the girl I am going to marry.”
Turned out they lived in the same building. He helped her with her luggage. They later married, but they consider the day they met their anniversary.
Betsy Zimmerman went on to earn her MBA from Wharton. In high school, she was the recipient of a Ford Foundation research grant and a joint scholarship from the German Bundestag and the United States Congress, which enabled her to spend a year in Germany studying the rise of neo-Nazi movements. She spent nearly a dozen years in various positions at Prudential Investments, including serving as vice president of business strategy before retiring to stay home with their two children, who today are 5 and 7.
Ed Zimmerman went on to law school at the University of Pennsylvania. He was never what he calls “a big studier,” so he used a carrot approach on himself — if he studied for an hour he allowed himself some pleasure learning. He learned to play the guitar (“I am terrible”) and became passable at ethnic cooking, including Ethiopian (“My wife’s a good cook; I am not”), and studied Picasso’s blue and rose periods. He also started learning about wine, which remains a passion. He now hosts “Radio Uncorked,” a radio show about wine, which airs in San Francisco, Napa and Sonoma and is available on the Web.
Zimmerman interned at Lowenstein, and was hooked right away. “I was given a document and told, ‘Sit down and read this. What is it they are trying to accomplish that is not obvious? What are their strategies? How can we counter them and how should we do it so it will be palatable to them?’ That was a wow. They were telling me to sit in my office and think, which was pretty damn cool.”
The firm offered. He accepted. He has not drafted a résumé since 1991.
In 1998 he came up with an idea: Why not start a tech group? He drafted a business plan, made the pitch and the result has changed how New Jersey is viewed in venture capital circles. Dow Jones’ VentureWire Alert described a venture deal he handled in 2005 as “one of the largest single venture capital investments” of the year. He and the group have since completed dozens of complicated deals, including tech transfer/spin-off transactions for Rutgers University, the Stevens Institute of Technology and other research institutions.
Still, he says, “I saw a discontinuity. I was representing ventures in New Jersey and getting money from Silicon Valley and I thought, ‘Why can’t we do a better job of connecting New Jersey angels and venture funds with the startups in New Jersey?’”
So he founded AngelVineVC, a network of wealthy “angels” and venture funds dedicated to assisting early-stage companies in the region.
One success story: HydroGlobe, a Delaware company that markets systems that remove arsenic from water. The technology was created at Stevens Institute of Technology; Zimmerman helped with its first round financing. If not for a kind word from Zimmerman, it might not have happened. Several venture capitalists had already passed on the deal. Then one VC turned to Zimmerman at an AngelVineVC meeting and mentioned that HydroGlobe looked interesting. He asked Zimmerman if he should take another look. Zimmerman said yes. That led to a round of funding, and 18 months later the prospering company was sold. Today its technology is helping clean up poisoned groundwater around the world, and the VCs received more than 2.5 times their investment — not a home run, but not bad when you consider the “lukecold” venture climate in 2002.
Another success: Zimmerman represented Datran in its $60 million “Series A” round of venture funding. (“Series A” funding is a stock offering to raise money for promising young companies, often technology companies, to fuel expansion and/or R&D.)
“Ed is by far the most impressive lawyer I have ever met,” says Datran’s Keiser. “It’s amazing. I have never met anyone who has the energy Ed has. I’ve e-mailed Ed at 3 or 4 a.m. and he gets back to me right away. He seems to be able to stay up any number of hours. The only time he is not available is 6 to 8:30 p.m. when he has dinner with his children and his wife. He gets very little sleep. And it’s pretty much the same with Peter Ehrenberg [a partner and chair of the Lowenstein’s corporate department], who is a remarkable guy as well. They care more. I have seen them work hours that are insane, even during the holidays. And Ed has a photographic memory of events and information. His business savvy is his ability to remember every contract you have ever done. There is nobody better to have on a call when you are going over something complicated.”
Rick Kushel, CEO of Fairfield document processing outsourcer Archive Systems — and a Zimmerman client — says Zimmerman has developed the ability to think like an entrepreneur.
“I think he’s got that entrepreneurial spirit in him, maybe because of where he came from and what he didn’t have as a child,” Kushel says. “We have a very similar background. Whatever that underlying spirit is to continuously improve yourself and enjoy the finer things, Ed has it.”
Zimmerman and others at the firm, including Anthony Pergola, vice chair of the tech group, have put New Jersey on the map in venture capital circles, giving Silicon Valley and New York some competition.
“What Ed has built here is unique,” says Kesslen. “He has become a walking who’s-who in the VC community. I’d say a good third of his time is about bringing parties together. Not just giving good legal services — helping to find that perfect CFO, for example.”
It’s difficult to say exactly when Zimmerman’s days start and end. He may wind up in the office at 8 or 8:30 a.m., but it’s likely he was there from 9:30 p.m. to midnight or 1 a.m. the night before. When you talk to Zimmerman, you get the idea that his time is spent not so much trying to understand the law as it is about trying to understand the people involved in whatever he is doing, so that he can help them work together. He creates a venue, invites people to sit, gets them talking and exchanging ideas and, more often than not, good things result.
“To me the most interesting challenge is the human dimension,” Zimmerman says. “I enjoy connecting people.”
Asked to recall a favorite venture, Zimmerman doesn’t hesitate. It was in 2002, when he realized his first basketball charity fundraiser, Hoop-A-Paluza, was going to be a success.
“We had a couple of health scares with our kids, and when we cleared those hurdles I really felt it was time to spend a lot of energy on giving back,” he says. “Betsy had just given me a basketball hoop for Father’s Day and it was sitting in our beautiful new driveway. I know lots of families are not quite so fortunate, so I figured why not get 10 of my friends to come over and shoot hoops, and we’ll get sponsors [to pay for us to shoot free throws]. We figured we might raise $10,000 for kids with cancer. We raised $60,000.”
After four years the tally stands at $600,000. Just one more example of what happens when Zimmerman mixes a great idea with the right people.