An Interview With Erica Bristol

Marian Cook

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Erica Bristol is currently a principal at EB Resource Group, a consulting firm she founded specializing in Intellectual Property risk management consulting (copyright, trademark, trade secret, patent), alternative dispute resolution, and education and training. She received her law degree from the UCLA School of Law and served as in-house counsel for a large trade organization and its affiliates for almost 12 years. She has been a commercial mediator since 2006.

Cook: Thank you for your time today. Forming your own company is certainly an extreme form of leadership. What makes your firm different from others trying to serve the same needs?

Bristol: We undertake a holistic, 3-pronged approach by addressing the "before," "during" and "after" of risk management. We provide services "before" the dispute arises by providing risk management consulting and education and training, to reduce or eliminate the risk of claims and lawsuits. We assist "during" a dispute by providing dispute resolution services, both pre-litigation and during litigation. Finally, we assist with risk management "after" a legal dispute by providing regular business "check-ups" and education and training, to help avoid the same type of claim or litigation in the future.

Our mediation services are provided from a "business" perspective. The goal of our mediation services is to help resolve disputes without having to drag through the court system, which is very disruptive, time-consuming and expensive for business. Our focus is both legal and business efficiency, provided in a confidential manner.

Cook: How would you define your leadership style?

Bristol: Trying to stay abreast of current developments, not becoming too insulated, bringing that learning back to apply in the business. Being a mediator allowed me to do that. It filled a service orientation for me. As my career progressed, I realized I wanted to focus on mediation and IP consulting work, and own my own business, which I hadn't done before. And leadership by my definition includes undertaking something you haven't done before, in spite of fear or lack of experience.

I had people counsel me against starting a business. But you can't let fear cause you to hang back - you have to jump into new situations, fail quickly, learn the essential lessons and proceed.

Cook: How important is projecting your self-confidence to your organization, clients and/or other involved parties?

Bristol: It's important to make sure that your clients and prospective clients see your confidence, because your credibility and their willingness to try your service depends on your ability to gain trust. But, I will tell you that in general I think confidence is over-rated. I think it's perfectly normal to be scared inside, even as you are interacting confidently outside. Your lack of confidence may be your gut telling you that you need something before moving forward, and that need may be correct. Or, it could be a childhood issue or baggage that never resolved itself. Either way, you have to move forward in spite of it. Fear is human, you can't stop it from popping up, but you can choose not to be paralyzed by it.

That being said, my advice to my younger self would be to not let the bruises of your childhood affect your confidence. The past can spill over into adult life. Look back, figure out what happened long ago that is affecting you today, and don't let it inhibit your future. And understand how the past issues of others may be affecting them today as well. Understanding psychology and human interaction, and having compassion, is important in every profession, not just business.

Cook: What leadership lessons from your entrepreneurial experience have surprised you most?

Bristol: "Business" is really about managing human relationships and influencing human behavior. Companies are just groups of individual people interacting with each other, and those interactions lead to certain decisions. Until you can be fully honest about and understand who you are, it is hard to manage relationships with others and accept their individual human traits, especially where business is concerned.

In the organization you lead, you must come to terms with the fact that you are not equipped and don't have time to be good at everything. You have to let go and place people who are good at different things in the right slots, trust them, and rely on them.

Cook: What do you hope people that work with you would claim you taught them about leadership?

Bristol: That you can lead a successful company and provide a valuable service, while having an honest and genuine concern for your customers as human beings.

Cook: Thank you for your time and insights. I know our readers will find them valuable.

Bristol: You are very welcome.