There’s a reason why most romantic comedies end just after the couple finally gets together, against all odds: That’s when the real work starts. The happy moment shines, but then the two sides have to determine all of the details that come with their new union. Whose apartment do they move into? Who does the dishes? How will they sustain the newfound relationship, day in and day out? Similar questions arise with business unions, as Jeff Levinson can attest.
It was three years ago that NetScout completed an acquisition of a collection of assets that more than doubled the organization’s revenue. To this day, Levinson continues to help the company find the best way forward, integrate its new assets and people, and excel in a complex industry.
Fortunately, the relationship was already on the right path. “The secret to the acquisition, the integration, and the day-to-day job is preparation and hard work,” says Levinson, vice president and general counsel of NetScout. “You have to treat others respectfully, act with integrity, and put in the time and effort.”
The acquisition not only changed NetScout’s total value, it also drastically changed the company’s size, scope, and operations. After all the buildup, NetScout—a leading provider of application and network performance management and cybersecurity products—suddenly had moved from less than one thousand to more than three thousand employees, and with that growth naturally came other issues of scale and complexity. The organization had to learn to, in a sense, change the engine while keeping the car racing.
No matter how well prepared the transition team may have felt, Levinson says, they couldn’t have prepared for how much work would be required to undertake that challenge. “You try and create guardrails and plans, but each change has effects that you may not be able to foresee,” he says. “Most of the time, you have to just buckle down and get the work done.”
Even though much had changed, the organization found its stride thanks to some strong traditions: longtime NetScout CEO Anil Singhal laid out an organizational vision, executed by Levinson and the rest of the appointed transaction team. “Our core culture stayed the same, our chief operating officer’s approach to execution stayed the same, and as in-house counsel, our hallmarks of integrity, excellence, and fortitude stayed the same,” Levinson says.
Both because they needed to get to know all of their new coworkers and because it would streamline processes, the new legal team needed to get out into the business and learn as much as they could.
“The best preparation we have is our open lines of communication and understanding what people are trying to do,” Levinson says. “If you’re supporting sales with revenue contracts, for example, then you should be talking to the regional directors every week to understand what’s coming up. The fun part is being able to get close to the business and understand what we’re doing in the market.”
From there, they also make sure to sit in on forecast calls, attend engineering and executive meetings, participate in operations planning, and discuss everything from marketing to manufacturing with team leaders.
Once those issues of scale and communication were beginning to clear, deeper questions and concerns needed to be answered. Everything from product integration to differing methods of going to market needed to be altered, but so too did innovating a new culture that would fit the newly integrated business. “We have always had to deal with volatility, uncertainty, and complexity, but now there’s just more of it,” Levinson says. “That’s where we get paid—to make judgment calls that propel and protect the business. We really are business lawyers.”
Only once that foundation was in place could projects and processes begin moving at full speed. Early in the transition, a member of the NetScout marketing team posed a riddle: “Why do high performance vehicles have large brakes? So they can go fast.”
The leadership team—Levinson and the legal office included—realized they would have to be there to keep initiatives focused and under control because the organization knew they could move at hyperspeed. “Velocity has increased, and our role as the legal department is to support that,” Levinson says.
In order to do so, he had to first consider how the newly, much larger department would operate. In adding talented legal minds, Levinson was able to have each individual operate in a more specialized manner, and he has been able to delegate projects more appropriately.
“We have such smart people on the team, and I want to empower them,” he says. “ I want all of the high-performing people on the team to consider themselves the general counsel of their domain. I still have to be there with my hand on the steering wheel to set the direction and course-correct when needed, but the goal is to allow them to run their shop.”
At the same time, each individual in the legal team also had to be ready to take on any number of challenges, often without a map or playbook. As such, Levinson stresses the need for his team to contribute as business leaders just as much as the voice of legal expertise.
“We have to advise on everything from global compliance programs to negotiating contracts for customers who had previously had separate contracts for different businesses,” Levinson says. “But we have to go beyond just offering a legal answer and instead make it work for the employees, customers, shareholders, and even our community.”
Making it work for the employees often means keeping them safe from trouble—legal and otherwise. So while NetScout coined the term “Guardians of the Connected World,” Levinson and the legal office have been the guardians of NetScout as it expanded into a further connected reality. “As guardians in this evolving business, we help them get to where they need to go,” he explains. By communicating and dedicating their efforts to the business, Levinson and the legal team have helped the newly complex organization sustain its growth and thrive.
Off the Clock with Jeff Levinson
Sustaining growth and keeping an organization successful after a massive organizational change is taxing, but NetScout’s Jeff Levinson found that his time outside the office made nearly as big of an impact as that in his office.
First and foremost, he says—only a bit tongue in cheek—that executives going through a transformative acquisition or merger need to remember to get enough sleep. “It’s a long haul, and you don’t want to fall behind,” he says.
He also urges the need to keep the body as exercised as the mind. A CrossFit enthusiast himself, Levinson knows that it may be tempting to take a break, but he found that keeping the body moving invigorated his work hours and gave him an escape from stress.
“You walk in the CrossFit box and know the barbell isn’t just going to lift itself,” he says. “You tune out the distractions and pressures and just go at it.”
Finally, he balances those concerns of the body with feelings of the heart. “My wife and family support me through all this,” Levinson says.
Photo: Courtesy of NetScout