Michelle Bomberger, the founder, chief executive officer and managing attorney at Equinox Business Law Group, views herself as both an entrepreneur and attorney, offering her deeper insight into the needs of the business clients that Equinox serves.
Bomberger’s law firm, for example, has developed for its clients a fixed-fee model it calls general counsel services, which provides businesses with proactive legal advice and counsel on strategy and decision-making at a predictable price ― avoiding the sticker shock of a more piecemeal billable hours approach.
Adding to her business prowess is Bomberger’s experience in the corporate world prior to launching Equinox in 2005 ― when she served as senior manager of business-process analysis at Cingular Wireless and prior to that as a business-plan developer at Ignite Venture Partners LLC. Bomberger also worked as a business-operations and tech consultant at Ernst & Young LLP prior to attending graduate school.
Bomberger earned an undergraduate degree in finance and computer applications from the University of Notre Dame and her MBA and law degrees from Northwestern University. As part of the latest Daring Woman interview, Bomberger shares some insights about the barriers faced by women striving to achieve leadership roles and ways to overcome them, her views on mentors and networking, and she also shares some advice for the emerging generation of female leaders.
What are the most important characteristics of a good leader and what leadership traits are overrated?
A good leader trusts her team, allowing them to make decisions and make mistakes, and coaches them to improve and grow. A good leader provides the vision for an organization and helps the team to move together toward that vision. A good leader creates a culture for the team and leads by example. Overrated traits include being “friends” with the team members and a focus on making them happy.
As a woman, what is the most significant barrier to becoming a leader?
I don’t know that I have experienced barriers to becoming a leader because I am female ― although, I suppose it’s hard to distinguish the traits I innately have from those I have developed because I am female. I would say I waited too long to choose to lead, which likely arose from the boundaries I set for my work life and home life. I didn’t focus explicitly on leading my company until the last few years when my focus on the business became more strategic.
How can women achieve more prominent roles in their organizations?
I don’t think there is a “one-size-fits-all” answer to how women can move up in organizations. However, I think competence and confidence are two primary success factors. You must be good at what you do, and you must have the confidence to speak your mind and defend your position and take credit for your work.
What key lessons did you learn from a woman who has inspired, mentored or sponsored you?
I have been fortunate to have had exceptional female leaders in my life ― from my mom to my supervisors ― all of whom have, in their own way, set an expectation in me to say, “Just do it.” When asked, “How do you handle it all?” my answer is, “You just do.” More specifically, these women don’t make excuses. They do what they say they’ll do and do it well and completely. The lesson is that your integrity is on the line when you accept a role. It’s important in the workplace for others to trust that you’ll do what you say. If you fail to do so, you let others down and they won’t ask again.
What advice do you have for the next generation of female leaders?
Seek a diverse workplace and be open to learning from everyone. Conversations with people who are different from you will help you grow professionally.
How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts?
Networking is essential, not only to grow your contacts, but to learn what else exists in the world. Some of my favorite people are other business owners, specifically women business owners, I’ve met through networking. These women are not only friends but also mentors and sounding boards for me as I journey with my business. Networking should be strategic to help you find specific resources but also must be authentic and mutual. If you’re just there to get something, you won’t be successful in building meaningful relationships that will serve you in the future.
I developed and launched the general counsel services model at Equinox about 10 years ago. At that time, I knew it was an important innovation for legal services, but I didn’t invest in the necessary marketing and sales support to create clear product messaging. The business was small, and I felt our existing networking and marketing would get the word out over time. Organic growth has been solid but not explosive. I wonder how many more businesses we could impact with our model if I had been more aggressive.
Where will we find you on a Saturday afternoon?
During the fall, watching Notre Dame football. During the spring and summer, planting and harvesting our urban vegetable garden.
What would be the title of your autobiography?
“Every Day’s an Equinox: Finding the Balance to Thrive.”
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Daring Women Q&A responses have been edited and condensed.