Name: Igor Fuks
Job Title: Managing Principal, Halcyon Capital Management
Hobbies Outside of Work: Travel, reading, spending time with family
Legal Fiction Recommendation: “Comic Wars,” a dramatic retelling of the restructuring of Marvel in the 1990s
If Igor Could Have Coffee with Anyone, Past or Present, He’d Choose: Isaac Asimov, the prolific sci-fi author
When he was in law school, Igor Fuks signed up for a class in bankruptcy law simply because he thought it sounded cool; he didn’t expect it would set him on the path that would lead him to his current career. The class ended up making such an impression on Fuks, however, that for years he kept in touch with the professor, a titan of the bankruptcy bar named Harvey Miller, frequently asking for advice and guidance.
He was so drawn to the subject matter Miller had taught him that when it came time to pick a practice group at his first law firm job, Fuks eschewed the traditional choice of M&A and instead joined a smaller group focused on restructuring and acquisition finance. The rest, as they say, is history.
We sat down with Fuks to discuss his current position, the advice that has had the largest impact on his career, and why being a morning person might not benefit firm lawyers as much as it should.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about what you do?
The day-to-day challenge and variety of it. To give you some recent examples, I work on situations from distressed municipals to failed financials to aftermath of fraud, and merger disputes. There’s no cookie-cutter situations; there’s always something new to learn and the fast pace of it keeps things interesting.
Q: Which pivotal moments stand out along your path to getting where you are?
The opportunity to leave my law firm came about for me very fortuitously. I started thinking about some other things I might be interested in as a very junior associate. What I did was reach out to people—in some cases that I didn’t know very well—that were doing things that sounded interesting or cool. This was in the pre-LinkedIn days, so it took a lot more sleuthing to figure out what people were up to.
I had a former colleague who I was friendly with when I was a summer associate. She had left to do something that sounded interesting. It turned out that fund was looking for someone pretty junior with legal experience, and things came together. The pivotal moment for me was that I got my offer to leave the relative safety of the law firm world to go to a financial institution literally the Monday that Bear Stearns collapsed. It was obviously a seismic shift in the financial markets and the opportunities that people would see, both on the advisor side and the investor side. At the time, less than obvious, but there was a huge fork in the road.
Q: Did anyone or any piece of advice in particular help you along the way?
I’ve been fortunate to get some good advice over the years and find people who were willing to be mentors and really invest in educating me. One piece of advice that I got was to focus on what you want to do, not just what makes you unhappy. There’s always positives and negatives at every job, but what is it that you want? What are the things that you currently do that make you happy?
Another piece of advice I got that has helped me was to, as cliché as it sounds, network and talk to people. Specifically, not to be shy and to reach out to people, even people I knew peripherally or maybe not even at all, who are doing interesting things. There’s a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it, and the wrong way is: You call up and say, “Please hire me,” out of the blue, and the better way that has served me well is to say: “You’re doing a cool thing. Tell me more—what’s it like? How did you get to where you are?” People usually love talking about themselves.
Q: Are you a morning person or a night owl, and how does that play into your approach at work?
I’m much more of a morning person, but over the years I’ve learned you have to adapt to the schedule of the profession you have chosen. When I was a junior associate in the law firm life, I had the bright idea that if I got in super early, I’d be able to leave earlier. But it just didn’t work that way. The people you worked for got in later and the clients got in later still, so all it meant was just a longer day and I didn’t sleep as well as I could have.
Q: Which personality traits and skills do you think have been most important in getting you where you are?
Understanding people and people’s motivations, and what we colloquially call “constituency analysis” at work. It’s understanding the psychology of how things play out beyond numbers on the page or legal arguments, what motivates people, what makes them agree or settle or fight or take a certain value or act in a certain way. It’s something that you accumulate with experience over time, but it’s something I think has proven very useful. To give you an example, we were involved in a restructuring of a failed bank obligation of a small country. There was a certain amount of assets and the debt traded for a certain price, but really the whole key to understanding what would happen, whether you would ultimately be happy or very unhappy, was understanding the motivations of the government and the people making the decisions and what they wanted out of it.
Q: What’s your advice for lawyers?
One piece of advice that’s served me well is to reach out to alumni of your group or your firm or people that have some connection—even tenuous—to what you do, that have gone on to do interesting things. You’re not going to connect with everyone, but among the people that you do connect with, there’s often useful advice and things out there in the ether that might be interesting in terms of practice areas or clients or perhaps new job opportunities.