Who am I and how did I get here?

Issue September/October 2016 By Jeffrey N. Catalano

Taking over as president of the MBA is a very daunting task when I have to follow in the footsteps of those amazing people who came before me. Our most recent president, Bob Harnais, the first Hispanic president of the MBA, has pretty big shoes to fill. He has done so much to improve the MBA, and I hope to do him and the other incredible officers who preceded me proud by grabbing the MBA banner and continuing the charge ahead.

Little did I know that my leadership training for this position began long ago. I recall that the summer after I turned 16 years old I wasn't sure what to do with myself. My father said to me: "I'm sure someone has an opportunity for you. Go find it." So I walked down the street and got the first of many odd jobs I held through high school and college - burger flipper, dishwasher, janitor, factory worker, delivery boy, mail clerk… . While these weren't particularly glamorous jobs, they did offer me an insight into different types of management and leadership styles, good and bad, of my various bosses. I became an acute observer of how to motivate people to do their best work by treating them with respect. I saw people walk out when they were devalued. But I also learned how far a small compliment like "Nice job" could go to make you work harder.

After graduating from the University of Scranton, I deferred my admission to BC Law for a year to join the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) in Boston. That was my first deep dive into public service, where I worked with troubled adolescents in an alternative school. I also worked some weekend shifts at the Pine Street Inn homeless shelter. Having come from a rather homogenous working class town, it was my first real introduction to disadvantaged inner city communities. There I learned about leadership not just from people who were in charge of me, but from those for whom I was responsible. I learned the importance of being genuine, honest and caring. I observed that people who have been mistreated or misjudged, or who have been through really rough times, can spot a phony a mile away.

After graduating from law school, I had a burning desire to become part of something committed to serving each other in the profession and society at large. That's when I introduced myself to the MBA. I made a cold call to the MBA 16 years ago, and asked if there was anything I could do. The person on the other line said something that sounded vaguely familiar: "I'm sure we have an opportunity for you."

Since that day, the MBA has given me many opportunities to get involved in a larger community committed to social justice and the improvement of our profession. I also learned, through trial and error, how to lead and motivate others. I have served and chaired section councils, debated substantial issues on the House of Delegates, organized and participated on CLE programs, and testified for the MBA at the State House on important legislation. I came to understand that more important than savoring victory and achievement is rebounding from defeat and failure. The former keeps us energized, but the latter takes measure of our grit - an essential ingredient for future success.

And so the rest of the story is that I now have the opportunity to help lead this terrific bar association that consists of people who accomplish so much for so many, often humbly without asking for recognition - another quality I have seen in great leaders.

I cannot overstate how proud I am to lead an association of people who advocate for the civil rights of those whom I served in JVC so long ago; who volunteer at the Pine Street Inn where I once roamed the halls; who argue for increased pay for judges, public defenders and DAs, so that everyone gets equal access to justice; and who push for improved civility and respect that has been such a part of my upbringing.

The MBA has been out front, leading the charge, with each president becoming the new flag bearer. And as I take my turn, I am mindful that everyone who has fulfilled this position before me has not done it alone, and my situation is certainly no different. I am so grateful to the many bosses, mentors and fellow officers who have guided me; to my law firm partners, associates and staff who support me; and to my wife, family and friends who inspire me.

And to those of you who have a desire to give back to the profession and make a difference in society while also making great friends and professional connections, I convey that the MBA has an opportunity for you. Come get it.