Career Corner: ‘Don’t be afraid of taking a risk’
David Berg (JD 86) did not realize when he was in law school that his degree would take him across the world to a string of nontraditional legal roles.
Berg started his career in the legal department at BellSouth. Now, he’s the new chief operating officer of global hospitality company Carlson, which operates Radisson hotels and TGI Fridays restaurants.
Armed with a UF Law degree, Berg has held leadership positions at several prominent retail companies.
“In hindsight, I realize what a great experience it was in law school that I’m not sure I fully appreciated while I was there,” Berg said. “I may be a simple case where that legal education really does open a ton of opportunities.”
Early on, Berg had his sights set on the business sector. During his time as an undergraduate economics major at Emory University in Atlanta, he considered entering a dual-degree program where he could earn both a J.D. and an M.B.A. But he settled on law school.
“I had a conversation with my father,” Berg said. “He said, ‘You’re welcome to go to law school, and you’ll pay for it on your own.’”
Berg chose the University of Florida. Faced with the prospect of paying for law school himself, Berg said the scholarships UF offered for out-of-state students made the decision easier. Additionally, Berg said he wanted the experience of attending a larger school in the Southeast.
Unsure of his career path, Berg tried to take courses that would provide him with a broad background in law. He said the corporate law and tax classes he took served him well as his career progressed, while the analytical thinking skills that are nurtured by many law classes are key to success in the field as well.
“In law school, we end up taking both sides of an issue, which is very helpful,” Berg said.
After his 1L year, Berg clerked in his hometown of Minneapolis. During his 2L summer, he worked for BellSouth in Atlanta.
“At the time, BellSouth had about 200 lawyers,” Berg said. “It really was like a law firm.”
That summer position became Berg’s springboard into the business world. BellSouth hired him to work in the Georgia state office after graduating from UF Law.
“This was back in the mid-‘80s, when jobs were aplenty,” Berg said.
Working for BellSouth gave Berg opportunities that were rare for a young lawyer. He amassed a wealth of practical legal experience that would form the foundation of his career.
“I was trying lawsuits six months out of law school,” Berg said. “It was great training for me.”
BellSouth bought a company in Minneapolis and sent Berg to be the general counsel, all before he turned 30. He moved again to a company office in New York. Soon after, he left BellSouth and took a job with NordicTrack. There, he submitted a business plan for international distribution of the company’s products. It was his first taste of business management.
Berg returned to Florida to work for Danka Business Systems, briefly left for a dot-com, then moved back to Danka. From there, his resume is filled with corporate heavy hitters, including time with Best Buy and GNC.
“I was fortunate to lead a great team that formulated Best Buy’s global expansion, including acquisition of the fourth-largest consumer electronics retailer in China,” Berg said.
Berg said his legal training was essential in ensuring the success of the international negotiations. After leaving his position as chief operating officer of GNC, he held the position of President of International for Bloomin’ Brands. Berg cites the excitement of doing business in countries across the globe and the criticality of keeping the customer at the center – “whether you are selling steaks in Brazil or TV’s in China.” Berg said he had the unique opportunity to participate in two IPOs – GNC on the New York Stock Exchange and Bloomin’ Brands on NASDAQ.
“Back when I finished school, there was much more of a defined ladder to greater responsibility and greater jobs,” Berg said. “I don’t think that perfectly linear ladder makes sense these days. It’s more of a jungle gym.”
“Don’t be afraid to take opportunities that might not be a step ahead,” Berg said. “Don’t be afraid of taking a risk.”
Berg said he asks interviewees about failures they’ve experienced in their lives.
“I care very little about (what) the failure was,” Berg said. “I care more about what you can learn from it.”