I knew early on that I did not want to be a working musician but I fell in love with jazz festivals.
Name: Leslie José Zigel
Title: Chair of the Entertainment, Media & Technology Industry Group
Company: Greenspoon Marder
Major City Where You Work: Miami, FL
City Where You Live: Miami, FL
What’s your personal and cultural background? Where did you grow up?
I am a first-generation American born to Argentine parents. My parents moved to the United States in the early ’60s and were both physicians. I was born in Rome, Georgia but as a one-year-old, I moved to Baltimore, where I grew up. I attended the University of Rochester for college where I designed my own major called A Sociological Study of the Music Industry where I combined music, business, and sociology classes all with the hopes of one day being able to work on producing jazz festivals.
Why do you do what you do for a living.
I’ve always felt that music provides an integral benefit to our society and culture. Studies have shown that studying music in grade school also helps with brain development and cognitive function. I was fortunate to be able to study music starting in fourth grade and continued to do so throughout high school and college. I’ve always felt that music can contribute to society at large and make the world a better place. I decided early on that I did not want to be a working musician, but rather work in the music business helping musicians spread their music around the world. That’s what I’ve been able to do in the various incarnations of my career. .
How did you end up in your line of work? Was it accidental or were you strategic about it?
It was actually very strategic. I knew early on that I did not want to be a working musician but I fell in love with jazz festivals and my first career was working for the preeminent jazz festival producer in the world, George Wein. It took a lot of perseverance and hustle to get the job, but I worked there for seven years. I then decided to go to law school at the University of Miami to practice entertainment law. I worked for a multi-national music label BMG for seven years as head of their Latin American Regional Office for Legal and Business Affairs. I then had my own private practice ZigLaw which I ran for 10 years and four years ago, I joined Greenspoon Marder as the Chair of the Entertainment, Media and Technology Group. All of these steps were very intentional and strategic and I’ve had a great professional working experience.
What factors shaped your career and business aspirations.
I had an initial dream of producing jazz festivals, then practicing entertainment law and I tenaciously chased those dreams. Having mentors early on was a big help. I also have read quite a few business biographies of people that I respect in the entertainment and media business. Most importantly, I followed my own instincts and did not listen to “conventional wisdom”. I heard from many people when I said I wanted to move to Miami to practice entertainment law that it was impossible and the only way to practice entertainment law was to be in New York or Los Angeles. I railed against that assumption and turned out to be right. The same thing was told to me in college when I said I wanted to produce jazz festivals. People said that I was crazy. As Steve Jobs said in his Apple commercial, “Sometimes the crazy ideas win the day.”
How do you balance the work-life challenges?
Performing, studying, and surrounding myself with music has been instrumental in maintaining a balanced approach. Also, turning off the ringer and the phone is a good way to get centered.
What advice would you have for others in the business sector trying to make it day after day?
At the end of the day, you have to be a good professional. Find good mentors to work with and really do your research, dig into the details, and be as good as possible at your job. Some of the skills necessary are patience, passion, and perseverance.
Did your background/ethnicity create any obstacles for you? Any advantages? How so?
I don’t believe my background or ethnicity created any obstacles for me. My success really was based on hard work, relationships I developed over time and creating a wow factor with my clients with the level of work and accomplishments I achieved for them.
What inspires you in your work life? What turns you off?
I get inspired by challenges. I like having situations that are not the norm where I have to think outside of the box and really create solutions that you would not find in a textbook. I also get inspired by creative people and hearing the work that they do and being able to be a part of their team. What turns me off is inflexibility, arrogance and negativity. We all have situations that we deal with and we must deliberately choose what our attitude can be about them. Oftentimes, as an attorney, I have to take very strong positions and there are acrimonious situations between my clients and others that I need to navigate. I always try to be respectful to opposing counsel and never take on any of these issues as personal because they are not; they are just business.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
The advice I would give my younger self is to make sure and live below your means and set aside 10 to 20% of your gross income for investing and savings. This means every time you get a raise, try not to increase the expenses that you take on. This allows you to be prepared for rainy days and downturns in the market. Also, I would say maintain a healthy level of cash or liquid investments that are not tied to the stock market. Always have cash available because there inevitably are buying opportunities when everyone is selling. Lastly, if everyone is taking a certain direction, go in the opposite way. Never follow the herd.
If you could have dinner with any person—living or dead–who would it be? Why?
I would love to have dinner with Bill Graham, the famed concert promoter who died tragically in a helicopter crash in 1991. He was essentially the man who created rock and roll concerts in the late ’60s and worked with all of the legendary acts such as The Rolling Stones, The Grateful Dead, Santana, etc. He was alsoa Holocaust survivor, having escaped from Poland. He took lots of adversity and turned it into an empire, but more importantly, he made a big impact and always gave back. I would love to sit down with him and get some insights into his method of thinking and how he attacked all of the controversy and challenges that he had in his lifetime.
What is your favorite quote/saying? Give us your own personal quote to commemorate at LBT.
My favorite quote is “it’s okay to make a mistake, just don’t make the same mistake twice.” It is important to take risks and challenges and know that you might fall flat on your face. As long as you learn from them when you get up and make different mistakes the next time, it means that you are moving forward. It is not a question of perfection. It is a question of taking all of your life experiences and making things better the next time around.
Anything else you would like to share.
Whatever you do, have fun and don’t take yourself too seriously!