Since Alex Patterson graduated from law school, his life has taken a twisty route that eventually led to his current job as chief creative officer at Tough Mudder, a rapidly growing company that stages military-style obstacle course events around the world.
His career path is unusual, to say the least, but it started out in a fairly conventional way, when he first got a job as a tax attorney with a big firm in Manhattan, where he worked for two years.
“For me, it wasn’t the right fit,” Patterson told Wayne State University law students recently.
His talk was the second in a lecture series at Wayne Law on nontraditional careers. Patterson’s career today is about as “nontraditional” as they get, and that is the right fit for him.
But back in 2009, the tax work at his law firm “totally dried up” when the market “tanked,” and the law firm “basically broke up with me,” he said. “I was OK with that. I decided it was an opportunity to really decide what you want to do.”
He moved back in with his parents and started looking for a new job.
“I was actively applying, but I was only applying for things I thought I’d really like,” Patterson told the law students.
A friend sent him an article about Tough Mudder, a startup company that had staged a couple of events and had two or three employees at the time. Patterson was intrigued. He’d done a mud run in California a few years earlier, and was a long-distance swimmer, a surfer and a triathlete. Working for a “quirky” company that suited his natural athleticism had appeal.
Out of the blue, Patterson sent Tough Mudder’s CEO Will Dean, a former soldier with British Special Forces, a letter and a paper on what he thought the company’s tax plan should be. The ensuing job interview took place in a park, and in 2010, Patterson was hired as Tough Mudder’s in-house counsel for about a third of what his salary had been as a tax attorney in Manhattan.
He looked at the company’s liability issues — and when you sign people up to crawl under barbed wire and scale concrete walls, there may be some. He helped Tough Mudder deal with an existing lawsuit (since resolved) in federal court in California. And he helped the company register in different states so it could expand. Along the way, he started dealing with sponsors and sales, and because of his enthusiasm and his insistence that the voice of Tough Mudder be the right voice, he also ended up as the start-line announcer for the 10- to 12-mile events that take participants through mud, muck and assorted obstacles including electrical shocks.
“It was a fun way to get to know the Mudders,” Patterson said.
He became the company’s chief marketing officer. It was a natural evolution for him, and he spent 2011 building a marketing department.
“Always transition to what you think is your most valuable role,” he told the law students.
As the company grew, jobs became more specialized and more employees were hired. Patterson got more involved with “obstacle and event innovation” as a result of surveying the Mudders and paying attention to their comments. He moved into the role of chief creative officer.
“Ninety-five percent of business is marketing, and 95 percent of marketing is having empathy,” he said. “The one fundamental thing all good businesses do is ask why. Why do customers like the event? If something goes wrong, why did it go wrong?”
Attorneys, he said, generally need to “become better planners” for themselves and their careers.
By joining “something that was really small and helping it grow,” Patterson paved his own career path, he said.
His career advice for law students included:
*Keep your friendships alive. Networking pays off. If a friend hadn’t sent him the article about Tough Mudder, he might not be where he is today.
*Consider what it is in your life that you’re “naturally passionate about” and find a way to work that into your career.
*Be adaptable and creative, and don’t be afraid to move into new roles if they suit you.
“Being an attorney really comes in handy in many, many ways,” Patterson said.
Are you tough enough? Join the Wayne Law Tough Mudder team and prove it!
Students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends are invited to join Wayne State University Law School Dean Jocelyn Benson in running through fire, crawling through mud-pits, and scaling walls during Tough Mudder, a 10- to12-mile extreme obstacle course considered one of the toughest and most popular fitness events in the world. Developed by British Special Forces, Tough Mudder was created in 2010 and, since then, more than 700,000 people have participated, raising almost $5 million dollars for the Wounded Warrior Project.
Teams of “Mudders” will run a gauntlet of military-style obstacles designed to test their physical and mental limits. Teammates tackle obstacles like the “Mud Mile,” “Cage Crawl,” and “Electroshock Therapy,” and then celebrate at the finish line with drinks and a live band.
Benson will be heading a team of Wayne Warriors in this year’s Tough Mudder event on Saturday, June 29, in Brooklyn, Mich. All in the Wayne State community are welcome to sign up. Those interested in joining the team should email ToughMudder@wayne.edu
for registration details by April 11.