On 7 October 2017, Obelisk Support CEO Dana Denis-Smith joined radio presenter Elliot Moss on Jazz FM for the Jazz Shapers programme. They talked about creating Obelisk Support, believing in a better world, recording the history of women in law with The First 100 Years and, of course, they talked about jazz. This is a summary of the programme, that will be shortly available to listen on iTunes and on the in-flight radio of British Airways.
About Obelisk Support
Q: Is it just common sense when you’re mapping out how someone wants to receive a service, or is there something intrinsic to being a lawyer delivering a service to a client?
A: Talking about the client journey, I [positioned] myself as a consumer and tried to understand how I behave and what I expect from a service provider. It has to be easy, very much like a John Lewis “you know what you get, it doesn’t unravel in the wash”, and this is what our business is aiming to do. We want our clients to experience that it’s simple and easy to work with us.
We have about 1,100 registered lawyers, which is symptomatic of the fact that the legal profession has an over-supply of lawyers. The question is, can we get good lawyers to work with? Because we only do business law. To guarantee the quality of our lawyers, my team makes sure that they have a minimum of 2 years experience in a top law firm or a very large multinational, as this is our client base. We have other objective recruiting requirements to which we add a culture fit element. It’s a mixed process that can take up to two weeks to complete. About 40% of people make it through.
Q: When did it pop for the business?
A: In March 2012, we had 120 lawyers and I realised that we needed a larger scale. We got to 500 lawyers during the year, then 800, now 1,100 and we get new suppliers all the time.
About The First Hundred Years
Q: What was the purpose of the project you created in 2014?
A: The purpose of The First Hundred Years was to chart the journey of women in law. I had no idea of when women came into the profession [women were first admitted to the bar in the UK in 1919] and yet, all the time I was seeing stories on how women were not advancing or that there were not enough women in leadership positions. In order to understand the present and in order to help shape the future, the project was created.
Q: What are you celebrating at the end of October?
A: The [Women in Law Award Ceremony] is part of the search for the next generation of women lawyers. Rather than deciding who we think is inspirational, we decided to create awards so people could nominate people who inspire them and it’s open to anybody of any age, as long as they’ve worked 10 years in the legal profession. It opens up a new range of names for the project, beyond the pioneers, to know who will be the women of the future.
About Disruption, Change & Happiness
Q: The law is quite a conservative profession. You don’t associate the law with pioneers or breakthroughs or entrepreneurs. Have you enjoyed being a bit of a disruptor?
A: I would say I enjoy being an inventor. Disruption was part of my motivation. For me, I’m interested in change and in progress and in changing people’s lives. That’s what excites me, more than being labelled a disruptor.
Q: Why are you so interested in change and progress? Most people would carry on their daily lives.
A: My father was an inventor and I learned from him that you can tweak things and you don’t have to rip everything apart for it to work better. You can really make a difference with a few smaller changes. Change can be huge and explosive but, especially in the legal profession, it can be more gradual but with impact.
Q: What makes you the most happy?
A: I’m very happy with the team because they come to work because they believe in what we stand for. They don’t come to work because they want to earn a wage. It’s nice to see, if you like, my motivation become infectious. Now they have infected me in return, which is a really nice place to be. I’m always really happy when I see that we’ve succeeded for people who get left behind. In particular, we see elderly men being pushed out of the workplace too soon, men and women. Helping people change life directions and helping them achieve what they want makes me happy.
About Dana Denis-Smith
Q: Tell us about yourself. You grew up in rural Romania. When did you come to the UK?
A: I came over 20 years ago. I ended up going to the London School of Economics and ending up getting married and settling here, all the usual story.
Q: Do you see things differently from someone who was born and brought up here [in the UK]?
A: I do but it’s not necessarily because I was born abroad. It’s more the country and the system that are relevant, that kind of controlled economy. I can’t claim any early early entrepreneurial journey, there was no marketplace in Romania, it was communist. This idea of intervention in the market, which is a very socialist and communist way of running an economy, is a really interesting one. I realise that I apply it in the business because unless you make a match happen, you will always end up with a client wanting a full-time employee on-site in their office. The only way we can create a successful recipe for the business is because I intervene in that marketplace and I make the marriage happen between clients and lawyers.
Q: Now, do you feel very Romanian in your head, British, or is that not relevant?
A: I like to think of myself as a citizen of the world, which is maybe not a very good thing these days. If you like, I feel like a Londoner.
Q: Just before I let you go, what is your choice track?
A: My choice is Hugh Masekela.He’s a South African musician and the track I picked is Stimela. It’s such a universal song, really, I love it. It came out at a time when I came out of communism and I love the way he manages to mix world music with the best jazz. He’s elaborate in his style but I also like the politics of it. Politics is what motivates change. He succeeds in making a political song that remains universal to this day. The story of economic migrants is no bigger than today. It’s very personal for me too. It’s about looking for betterment.
You can listen to the interview on Jazz FM here.