Cecelia Bonifay | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Cecelia Bonifay


Orlando-based Akerman is a top 100 U.S. law firm known for its work in middle-market M&A and complex disputes, and for providing comprehensive counsel in the financial services, real estate, and other sectors across the nation and Latin America. Cecelia Bonifay is a member of the firm's board of directors and executive committee.

The Mistake:

I thought that being at every event and being a member of every organization was going to help me achieve my goals.

It happened as I was coming to Akerman, during my early years here. I’m an urban planner by background, so [I was] helping build more sustainable communities and actually creating that [practice] within our own culture. And I spread myself way too thin.

I thought if I were at some event every single night and just meeting people and collecting cards that somehow that was the answer. So I really did a big step back in self-evaluation and said: This is not helping me achieve what I want to grow and do within the firm with my clients.

I asked myself if it was really helping develop the client base that I want. Is it really fulfilling what my mission is in terms of giving back to the community and having an impact? Are these the organizations that are really the leaders in their area? And [the answer was that] sometimes more is not better.

I just said I need to focus. I need to prioritize my time.

The Lesson:

I started looking at the organizations that I was involved in and decided that I really wanted to concentrate on just a couple that I thought fulfilled what I wanted to do professionally as well as personally and that contributed and supported this practice within the firm but were also involved in the community.

I kind of got rid of the superfluous ones. And I think the other realization was that just being a member of something is never going to help you form the personal relationships that are necessary to have an impact and be successful.

So I took on greater roles. I wanted to find a pathway to leadership [and] started as a committee chair, moving through the Urban Land Institute, [and] became involved at the district level. Then I [moved] into a vice chair and ultimately became the chairman of our Central Florida district. I also became very involved at the national level, where they had just started an advisory committee on climate change, land use, and energy. So I got very involved with that on the national level and was able to marry the local-regional with the national.

I probably spent more time [than before], but it was more focused.  At [the Urban Land Institute], they operate with thought leaders from all over the world and the country. So it helped me form great relationships with our clients. Lots of exciting things have come out of that. And once I had mastered that, it put me in line for some other groups that also helped with this mission of sustainability. I’m on the Economic Development Committee here in Central Florida.

But I didn’t really know all that. I just said I need to focus. I need to prioritize my time. And it was also something I really felt passionate about and enjoyed.

I try to help younger people and encourage them to ask themselves, "Where do you want to be five years from now?" I try to [suggest] groups that I think would be appropriate, where they can network but also get experience. You have to do a certain amount of marketing and networking, but pick the organizations that really have some substance and give you those professional opportunities.

Follow Cecelia Bonifay at @Akerman_Law.

Photo courtesy of Cecelia Bonifay

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email nryan@crain.com.

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's Orlando.