Ralph Baxter explains the benefits of locating Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe’s Global Operations Center in Wheeling.
Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe was growing fast in the 1990s. After operating from a single San Francisco office for 120 years, the law firm had in little over a decade opened in Sacramento, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C., Tokyo, and London. Still more was planned.
Amid that expansion, Ralph Baxter, chairman and CEO from 1990 to 2013 and a West Virginia native, proposed something totally new: centralizing day-to-day administrative operations in one location. Wheeling was chosen over San Antonio, Texas, and Nashville, Tennessee, as the location for the Global Operations Center (GOC), thanks to ardent courting by then-Wheeling Mayor Nick Sparachane and by Congressman, then Governor Bob Wise.
At the time, Orrick operated like other multi-office law firms. “When you interacted with someone on technology or finance and accounting, you picked up the phone and he or she came to your office,” Baxter says. So people worried about inconvenience. To sell the idea, he visited every Orrick location. “I started most meetings by putting up a U.S. map and asking if they could identify West Virginia. Somebody could at every meeting, but not everybody could. Then we talked about West Virginia’s history and why we were choosing it.”
Opened in 2002, the GOC now houses about 350 locally hired employees in billing, e-discovery, and other functions. The firm continued to grow: Law360 recognized Orrick’s reach in 2015 in its Global 20 ranking. What did the GOC gain Orrick? “Everything,” Baxter says. “We do everything better.”
Q+A with Ralph Baxter
There are logistical benefits … This is true win-win-win-win-win. Orrick is a market-leader in its compensation, so employees make as much as they could anywhere in the Ohio Valley, probably more—yet less than the firm would pay in New York or San Francisco. That means Orrick’s cost profile is lower and that benefit goes in part to clients and in part to partners.
… and human benefits. I don’t like the expression “back office” that’s often applied to administrative functions, because it doesn’t seem like a compliment. When you show up to work at the GOC, you are the main event—that whole building is about what you do. The people who work in the Orrick GOC are really delighted and proud. Turnover in general for these jobs is pretty high; turnover in Wheeling is approximately zero.
It helps to keep being appreciated. It was clear that, if we went to West Virginia, we were going to be treated as important—and that turns out to be true. Orrick’s relationships with the colleges and universities of the state, with the government and business associations of the Ohio Valley, with the state of West Virginia are mutually supportive and very real. We didn’t show up and get forgotten. If you bring your business to West Virginia, you’re going to be embraced and treated as important, because West Virginia needs those jobs. Our people want to stay home.
It’s a replicable model. All up and down the I-79 corridor you could do this, just a little less conveniently to the Pittsburgh airport. In the Eastern Panhandle, from Shepherdstown to Dulles is only about an hour. And depending on the business, you could do it elsewhere in the state. This should be a very important part of the economic future of West Virginia.