There was a time in his life when Jon J. Pinney wanted to be an FBI agent. When he decided he didn’t want to live on what an FBI agent makes, he pursued a law career. As he manages hundreds of millions of dollars in assets for high net-worth families and plays a key role in making deals to boost Cleveland’s future, it appears he made the right choice.

Dealmaking, no matter the forum, is in his blood.

“Transactions and the process of putting a deal together are often complicated,” says Pinney, managing partner at Kohrman Jackson & Krantz, more commonly known as KJK. “I just love the outcome and generating wealth for clients. I love closing a challenging deal that perhaps other law firms couldn’t get done. It’s amazing that you never see the same issues pop up. Every deal creates new issues that you have to navigate around, so you learn more and more with each deal that you close. I just enjoy the process.”

Pinney wrote the winning 345-page bid that helped Cleveland become host of the 2016 Republican National Convention. Earlier this year, he penned two columns calling for Cleveland’s leaders to come together and support collaboration that can build on the foundational economic pieces that have given Northeast Ohio a chance for a brighter future. He’s currently serving as co-chair of the Place node for the Blockland initiative, a large-scale effort conceived by Bernie Moreno to make Cleveland a destination for blockchain technology innovation.

In this week’s Master Dealmakers, Pinney talks about the need for speed in closing transactions, his passion for learning and the role Blockland can play in facilitating more business activity going forward.

Closing the deal

Poor communication is a common pain point in dealmaking. Either opposing parties or opposing lawyers or even people within our own firm will make minor matters an impediment to closing a deal. Finding a way to communicate and do it in a productive way is always a challenge. Instead of taking a contentious position over an issue that has come up, I encourage people to look at it from a business perspective and find a solution. Start from the standpoint of a solution, not a roadblock.

You’ve always got to find middle ground if you want to get a deal done. Of course, you always hit a breaking point. The economics drive the decision. But if you’re firm in your position or you’re not willing to be flexible, it’s hard to get a deal done today, especially with an economy like this. So I try to manage the client relationship in a way that allows us to navigate particular deal points and be flexible. Sometimes you have to give a little and compromise.

Speed of execution is critical. Deals that are delayed as a result of advisers are the deals that never get done. We have a rule here to move transactions as quickly as possible in order to continue the momentum. Deal fatigue is real. I’ve seen it happen lots of times where you just get too long into the deal and the transaction falls apart. People understate how important it is to advance a deal from an adviser’s standpoint.

Lawyers are just part of the process. We’re in many ways paper pushers, even though we’re business advisers. It’s our job to continue the momentum, otherwise the transaction often fails to close. The best way I could describe it is if you put a lawyer in a room with two doors, sometimes they never get out. You have to find a way to get past that for the benefit of the client. We owe it to a client to be decisive and know when enough is enough and help move a deal forward.

Gaining wisdom

My mentor was a gentleman named Bob Goodman from the law firm Goodman Weiss Miller. He had probably one of the most dynamic law practices at the time when I was coming out of law school. He represented eight public companies out of a boutique firm and he taught me some great lessons. One of them was to make yourself indispensable. What he meant by that was, know more than anyone else. Study the facts thoroughly. And become indispensable, vis-a-vis the knowledge you have. So I’ve always followed that mantra.

I really enjoy securities litigation. I started representing public companies. Doing that allowed me to understand finance, accounting, auditing and governance at the highest levels. I was often locked in a basement reading all the documents from public companies and studying and learning what was discussed at board meetings and finance and audit committee meetings. Being involved in some high-stakes securities litigation for a number of years really allowed me to understand business. My passion was for learning. I know it sounds corny, but I just enjoy learning about business, especially in high-stakes situations.

The Last Word

Blockland is already a success because it’s engaged the community. People are crossing paths who have never really done so before. I’m meeting people I’ve never met and hearing perspectives I would never hear. We’ve really tried to make the process as inclusive as possible. Anyone who emails me, we involve them immediately and we ask them to attend our meetings. In many ways, it’s creating a new model for how to engage in our economic development initiatives here locally.

The one benefit of having a nongovernmental initiative is the speed at which you can execute. It’s not bureaucratic. Like I said, it’s open to anyone. And also, with someone like Bernie, he and I share the same characteristic. We both like to move. We fly. Emails at 1 or 2 in the morning, 4 or 5 in the morning. Neither of us believe we have time here in Northeast Ohio to sit and ponder what to do next. It’s time to take a bet, take some risk and try to get the community engaged and start to get focused on building an innovation economy. Whether it’s successful or not, I have no idea. But it’s already successful in that we’ve brought people together who normally wouldn’t interact.

Be sure to check out the November issue of Smart Business Cleveland when we take an in-depth look at the Blockland initiative and what it could mean for the city’s future.

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