As deputy general counsel at Vanguard, John Bisordi understands the value of being culturally aligned with the organization you work for. Not only has it kept him at the investment company for more than fifteen years, but it has also empowered him to be a mentor to lawyers aiming to follow in his footsteps.
“Part of what you can struggle with as a lawyer is always trying to put out fires and minimize risks, and that’s a part of the job. But, if you’re aligned with the company’s culture, you can add more value,” he says. “You can go beyond whacking down the issues that arise and get to the part of enabling the mission of the organization. You can be more proactive than reactive.”
At the heart of Vanguard’s culture is a strong reliance on a client-focused mission that values ownership. That value runs deep, so much so that the company is owned by those who invest in its funds.
“There are a lot of conflicts in this industry but this place is structured a bit differently and that aligns everything we do day in and day out with the best interests of our clients,” the DGC says.
For Bisordi, that work is made possible through another key component of the company’s culture: collaboration. Through the company’s sponsorship program, he helps up and coming lawyers become what he calls “athletes.” That means a lawyer might come to the organization with specialized skills in tax, intellectual property, or employment, but is trained to understand all the legal and compliance issues the company deals with. The result? They have the opportunity to make a greater impact.
“That kind of flexibility helps you advise the business,” Bisordi says. “When you went to law school or a law firm like I did, you might think that would be your craft but understanding the broader business and legal issues is what’s important to the most senior people in an organization.”
He draws those lessons from his own career journey. After graduating from Villanova University in 2001, he started his first job at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr (Saul Ewing LLP), a full-service national law-firm based in Philadelphia. Early on, he had a lot of chances to try cases and to learn through doing. Leadership at the firm also had a mind for mentorship, allowing him to figure things out on his own while offering guidance along the way. In that environment, Bisordi learned to think of his feet while falling in love with the financial services industry.
“What I like about it is that it’s very broad,” he says. “It goes from deep operational rules and regulations very few people understand to how you sell things, interact with customers, and how the markets operate. You can always be learning but at the end of the day, you’re helping people save for the future.”
Bisordi’s curiosity for the industry drew him to Vanguard in 2007. He was proud to join the ranks of a company that put its clients first and where he could continue to hone his skills. He initially served as associate and senior counsel in the legal department. In those roles, he supported retail brokerage, equity market structure needs in addition to providing legal support for regulatory inquiry and investigation functions until 2016.
Then, he became head of Vanguard’s retail investor group legal team, a group of attorneys and legal analysts that provided legal and regulatory support to the company’s retail businesses.
When he reflects on his initial transition from private practice to in-house, he says it was “a shock to the system.”
“When you’re in private practice, you’re very focused on the thing that’s in front of you,” Bisordi reflects. “When you come in-house, you have to learn an organization and how to manage it; you have to learn the law and how to apply it in ways you never have before.”
The DGC managed to find colleagues that were valuable mentors that helped him navigate his new, in-house world. Today, he brings that same level of support to his business unit legal team that provides support to the company’s US distribution businesses, including retail, institutional and financial intermediary businesses. He opens his network to try to connect team members with opportunities that will help them grow.
Bisordi also provides them with perspective and context on how their work impacts the broader organization. Additionally, he shares insights he gained from experience to teach them the importance of patience for their own career journeys.
He reminds young attorneys that no career trajectory is the same. “The best advice I ever got was to not think of your career as a ladder but a jungle gym,” he says. “There’s usually a method to the madness for opportunities you’re given and if you’re always looking up, you’re not seeing other chances to do different things.”
“John is admired widely for good reason. His knowledge of the financial services industry is extensive. His legal acumen is excellent. He expects, and gets, the best from himself and those who work with him.”
—Paula D. Shaffner, Co-Chair, Securities Litigation