Lucy Fato admits that when conjuring up an image of a women-friendly workplace culture, private investigation may not be the first career that comes to mind. “When people think of PIs, they don’t think about women. They think of men with funny hats and trench coats,” Fato says with a laugh.
It may be even more remarkable then that global investigations firm Nardello & Co. has managed to position itself almost in direct opposition to the Hollywood stereotype of short-talking, short-tempered private investigators. Instead, Nardello & Co. has helped secure a global presence with many more women in positions of leadership than most businesses and far more than most in its field. Fato, managing director, head of Americas and global general counsel, has spent her first year at Nardello growing the firm’s network and global culture of teamwork that has contributed to the growth of much more than a solitary PI office.
Founded in 2003 by CEO and former federal prosecutor Dan Nardello, the company offers a wide variety of investigative services and support with offices in New York City, London, Atlanta, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Dubai, Milan, Italy, and Washington, DC. That global expansion has taken place with women in key leadership positions including Fato; Sabina Menschel, president and COO; Tara MacMillan, chief professional officer and head of the Atlanta office; Amie Chang, associate managing director and head of the Hong Kong office; Rana Feghali, associate managing director of the London office; and Sarah Morgenthau, managing director and head of the Washington, DC, office.
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Fato believes that Nardello’s team reflects their CEO’s approach to recruiting. “Dan Nardello is a smart businessman, very open-minded, and always looking for the best available candidate,” Fato says.
Morgenthau echoes that sentiment when describing the incentive of coming to work at the firm. “I was immediately attracted to the culture at Nardello, its entrepreneurial spirit, and emphasis on collaboration,” Morgenthau says. “Dan is hands-on with every aspect of the business, and while bottom line-driven, he also encourages us to be creative and flexible in our thinking.”
Fato says that the company’s team-based mentality has turned what could have been many potential negatives about running a global business into an asset. “We have people across many different time zones, but we’re a cohesive group,” Fato says. “We’re not siloed at all, and we’re interacting constantly.”
Chang sees that interaction as the lifeblood of the company. “A lot of professional services firms tend to have quite a cutthroat, zero-sum nature, where the mentality is very much ‘eat what you kill,’ or the question driving a person’s worth to the firm is what value do they have to immediately offer once hired,” Chang says. Chang believes that mind-set can be toxic for a business and might result in poor decisions being made in favor of personal interests.
Nardello’s approach is much different. “The driving thesis is that the firm’s success is our individual success,” Chang says. “This motivates everyone to jump in and do whatever it takes to ensure that a client will be a repeat client because they are happy with the quality and timeliness of our work, and they know they can count on anyone and everyone at Nardello to help them wherever and whenever they have a need—irrespective of jurisdiction or time zone.”
Nardello’s global reach means the firm’s interactions often take place during nontraditional business hours. Fato sees the company’s flexibility in navigating those issues as one of its major strengths. “The global nature of it means it doesn’t really matter where and when you’re in the office; you’re not necessarily tied to a desk,” Fato says. “We’re not an Eastern time zone-centric firm.”
Although that could mean she is taking phone calls before most individuals have started their day, Fato says that the culture at Nardello supports the need to occasionally disconnect. Fato believes that flexibility enables the workforce to occasionally take time to decompress, a move supported from top leadership.
Nardello’s global reach also makes it particularly alluring to potential clients.
“I can’t think of a place other than North Korea where we wouldn’t be able to operate,” Menschel says, only half-jokingly. “We truly are global.” Menschel says that Nardello is a large enough firm that it can operate anywhere effectively yet small enough to be discerning about the resources it uses around the world.
Many of Nardello’s strengths are rooted in what the company considers its “legal DNA.” Unlike many investigative firms, Nardello’s workforce includes a variety of backgrounds and legal expertise—including former US federal prosecutors, former general counsels of multinational corporations, and former law enforcement personnel, including professionals from the FBI, State Department, and other intelligence operatives. “I’m not sure if enough people know how different and unique we are,” Fato says.
Given the confidential and often highly sensitive nature of the work the company does, it can be difficult for Nardello to market itself by more than word of mouth. “We are a high value-add firm,” Fato says. “Relaying that is a top priority for me.”
Fato sees major potential in growing the firm and working to continue expanding its service reach to raise the firm’s profile of the quality of work they do. That means attracting suitable talent and continuing to expand Nardello’s extensive network.
When considering talent, both those already at Nardello and those looking at a future in investigative services, Fato sees a common thread. “Our colleagues are curious by nature. They’re diligent by nature. They like to problem-solve and put pieces of a puzzle together to get behind what really might be going on,” she says.
Chang says that Nardello’s approach to hiring is another arm of the culture it has worked so diligently to instill. “Dan and senior management look beyond gender, race, sexual orientation, nationality, and look at candidates holistically,” she says.
Fato also credits the company’s CEO for his ability to cultivate talent from a more diverse pool.
“He’s instinctively known that to do well in this industry and to be a high-end investigative firm, we really need to find the best people,” Fato says. “That’s exactly what he’s done. It just so happens that a lot of those people happen to be women.”
Editor’s note: At the time of publication, Fato was no longer with Nardello & Co. full-time, though she still serves in an advisory capacity.