Penny Tehrani Believes in the Power of Change

At Nomura, Penny Tehrani encourages her team and junior lawyers to embrace change while remaining active and flexible

Penny Tehrani, Managing Director and Head of Corporate Legal, Nomura Photo by Franco Vogt

Penny Tehrani never anticipated becoming a lawyer. “I always thought that I would be a doctor, but by the time I reached college, I entered undergrad as a philosophy and law and society major,” Tehrani recalls.

This educational pursuit led her to a fork in the road—she could either continue in academia or explore the legal route. Needless to say, as current managing director and head of corporate legal at Nomura, Tehrani chose the legal path.

For Tehrani, the experience of her plans and aspirations changing was an incredibly formative one for both her personal life and professional life. “There’s a quote by Voltaire: ‘the perfect is the enemy of the good.’ When I first read that in college, it really changed my perspective,” she explains.

Plans can and will change. Tehrani recognized that chasing perfection or the ideal experience can be counterproductive to flexibility and learning. “Take, for example, my legal career. I started out as a litigator, but when I was hired at Nomura, I became a corporate attorney. I had to completely retool,” she says. “It was not necessarily what I expected, but here I am fifteen years later, still practicing corporate law.”

According to Tehrani, being a good lawyer takes more than managing expectations of perfection and remaining pliable. You also need to be active. “Active doesn’t always mean being the person talking. Active also means actively listening, watching, and understanding your clients’ business goals,” she explains.

Tehrani believes actively listening also works in tandem with how she serves clients. “Your clients come to you because they need you. You are supposed to be their trusted advisor and you should know their business,” she says.

“As an in-house lawyer, you can’t cover your business without understanding what they do and what their goals are,” she continues. “That’s the formula to doing well. You have to ask yourself, Am I listening to them, and am I helping them deliver?”

Penny Tehrani, Managing Director and Head of Corporate Legal, Nomura Photo by Franco Vogt

This approach blends with Tehrani’s overall strategy, which is centered around delivering sound advice that provides clear, direct solutions.

Alongside her commitment to active listening, Tehrani’s determination to remain active has been a principal driver throughout her career. “A lot of times, society feels like it is approaching a more passive and reactive posture. Staying active is what can set you apart, especially in financial services,” she says. In addition to her active stance, Tehrani’s prior experience in financial services set her up for a successful run in corporate finance law.

“Though I am a litigator, my previous experience in financial services right out of college informed me of the inner workings of a business environment,” she explains. Prior to joining Nomura, Tehrani held positions at Cowen and Company and OppenheimerFunds. In these primarily HR roles, she gleaned what both employers and employees require to keep a business successful. She also determined the benchmarks for progression in the financial services realm. The latter point is an important one for Tehrani.

“When I started in financial services in the mid-’90s, there were fewer women in senior positions, and it was harder for women to have access to senior roles or pay. Since then, it certainly has improved, but it has sort of plateaued,” she explains.

As a woman in a senior position, Tehrani acknowledges this period of stasis and what it means for people in her position. She likens the issue to Moore’s Law. “We improve, improve, improve, until we plateau, and it is up to us to figure out how to improve again—to involve a more diverse and inclusive population.”

To improve and address this gap, Tehrani believes that it is crucial to keep the dialogue around the problem running. “Even if we don’t like what the other person is saying, we have to keep talking. As humans, we hate humiliation and demand respect. And though there might be fundamental disagreements, you cannot arrive at solutions if people don’t feel as if they are being heard or respected,” she explains. This idea is something that Tehrani takes quite seriously in terms of diversity and inclusion at large and, more specifically, her own team.

 “You cannot arrive at solutions if people don’t feel as if they are being heard or respected.”

Tehrani encourages a culture of open communication within her team. “Dialogue is so important. If I don’t know where you’re coming from, there are a lot of assumptions and presumptions. I want people to be able to tell me, ‘Hey, I’m having a bad day’ or I’m struggling.’ When I know what’s going on, I can best help those around me,” she says.

In addition to keeping lines of communication open, Tehrani focuses on avoiding complacency and instilling the formerly mentioned idea of staying active in her team members. “I want to challenge them, to push them to expand beyond their comfort zones, and to think broader, to think more tactically, to think more strategically,” she says.

These two foci, along with encouraging a sense of community and friendship within her team, make up the greater part of Tehrani’s leadership strategy. And while it has been successful for her, Tehrani attributes these successes to her leadership strategy working in tandem with a personal philosophy: your job should not be your entire life.

“There used to be this ethos within certain corners of the financial realm that work should be your end all be all. I want my team members to have their own lives and to keep a family-first attitude,” she explains. “As a leader, I not only have to set an example but also provide the right environment for them to succeed. I want my team members to show up and put on the best game that they can—and when they can’t, to know that I understand and that I am with them, not against them. I am blessed to have them and to have them stick around.”

Hope in Queens

Throughout her career, Penny Tehrani has found many successes, and more recently, she has felt a responsibility to use those successes to give back. In June 2020, she became a board member of Queens Community House, a nonprofit organization that provides individuals and families with the tools to enrich their lives and build healthy, inclusive communities.

As a native of Bayside, Queens, Tehrani is elated to be serving within her own community. “Queens Community House is an incredible organization. There are such wonderful, dedicated people who are working to make a difference in the community, and they have especially pulled together to help those in need during COVID,” she says. “I am so inspired by the hope that they give people during these difficult times.”

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Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe:

“Penny is a true professional and great partner—she’s smart, savvy, and thorough. She has a broad range of responsibilities yet always finds a way to identify and mitigate legal risks and come to a business-minded solution.”

–Mike Delikat, Jim McQuade, and Lisa Lupion, Partners

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Stroock & Stroock & Lavan:

“Penny has an exceptional ability to identify the crux of an issue, and she brings a pragmatic, business-oriented approach to addressing it. Her deep industry knowledge, breadth of experience, and collegiality have enabled a great partnership. The entire Stroock team is happy to see her recognized.”

–Ian DiBernardo, Cochair, Intellectual Property and Fintech Practices