Article by: Frederick R. “Fred” Nance, Global Managing Partner (US) LL P, Squire Patton Boggs LLP
In November 2016, Fred Nance found himself in his client Dave Chappelle’s NBC dressing room as Chappelle was preparing to host the first Saturday Night Live following the contentious presidential election. They were reviewing a proposed contract between Chappelle and Netflix for four comedy specials. At $60 million, it was the largest deal ever landed by a stand-up comedian. As Nance paused to savor the moment, he recalled roots that reflect the African-American experience of his day. One of six children in a blue collar Cleveland family, Nance’s early 1960’s memories include sleeping in the family car while travelling because the available “Colored Hotels” were filled with vermin, and watching the National Guard with mounted machine guns and fixed bayonets roll past as his hometown was ablaze amidst the turmoil of the day. From there to Harvard and Michigan Law, Nance landed an unlikely spot at the white shoe law firm Squire Sanders & Dempsey. Indeed, Nance was conditioned on him giving up all outside interests and working harder than his peers to compensate for the improbability of him succeeding. Nance still keeps the letter from 1978 spelling out those conditions in his top desk drawer. 40 years and many “adventures” later, his firm has morphed into Squire Patton Boggs with 1,550 lawyers, qualifying as a Law 360 Top 10 Global Law Firm. Nance has been named its Global Managing Partner where his responsibility for the firm’s U.S. LLP includes 37 offices in 15 countries.
Nance’s legal practice started conventionally enough, but soon veered to the sensational working on a team that successfully defended public official corruption claims in Ohio’s first televised trial, and then heading up the fight to retain the Cleveland Browns franchise when the owner moved to Baltimore. That led to the negotiating table with the NFL’s then #2 executive, Roger Goodell. Ten years later, the League asked Nance to compete for Commissioner when Paul Tagliabue retired. Nance eventually became one of five finalists for the position ultimately won by Goodell.
Nance’s profile attracted the attention of an inner-city teenager from Akron who needed capable counsel. LeBron James and Nance connected and have worked together ever since. According to Nance, “I’ve done a lot of really interesting things. But it’s almost impossible to describe the privilege of being on LeBron’s team as he’s transitioned from a kid in public housing to a literally global icon, on and off the court. And he’s just getting started.”
Nance’s exposure led to a call from an Ohio area code from someone named Dave Chappelle. Nance figured “it couldn’t be that Dave Chappelle” and hadn’t returned the call when his wife Jakki, who is also a lawyer, insisted that he do so. It was that Dave Chappelle and a dozen years later, Nance and Chappelle are still together. “Working closely with a brilliant artist like Dave has been a tremendous thrill. His talent is unique, I call it ‘lightening in a bottle’.”
Having risen to the top of a mega law firm, Nance tries to keep things in perspective through volunteer work. His non-profits currently include a fiduciary Director position for the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic where he serves as Vice-Chair of the Governance Committee and recently participated in the new CEO search. His docket also includes public company board service. Nance has been a Director of RPM International, Inc., a $6 billion coatings, sealants and specialty chemicals company for 11 years. “With all of the discussion around diversity in the c-suite and on public boards we must find ways to match capable candidates with those opportunities. If normal channels aren’t bringing talented women and minorities to the attention of nominating and governance committees, we all need to work harder to connect those dots.”