Setting the tone for success at Partridge

FIRM GRASP: Thomas C. Eagan, left, is chief financial officer at Partridge Snow & Hahn. His leadership has helped the office deal with tragedy and serious illness. Also pictured are Rob Kuznitz, office manager, and Henry Hanley, controller. /
FIRM GRASP: Thomas C. Eagan, left, is chief financial officer at Partridge Snow & Hahn. His leadership has helped the office deal with tragedy and serious illness. Also pictured are Rob Kuznitz, office manager, and Henry Hanley, controller. /

Thomas C. Eagan’s colleagues at Partridge Snow & Hahn LLP credit their chief financial officer for protecting the financial security of the law firm and creating an administration that has been responsive to economic and competitive pressures for the last 21 years.
Eagan’s fingerprints are on everything from ensuring the firm has the latest technology to implementing profitability analyses that dissect each of the firm’s practice areas. He has played a key role in both the physical expansion of the firm as well as its work force, which has grown from 14 to 125 members during his tenure.
“Tom has been a leader of one of the most important assets of this firm: Our prized culture,” wrote David M. Gilden, managing partner of the Providence-based firm, in an application nominating Eagan as one of Rhode Island’s top chief financial officers for 2011. “He has set the tone for being a member of the team … supporting others, guiding others, and being respectful and thoughtful about all members of the firm.”
Gilden said Eagan’s presence has been particularly invaluable over the last two years, as the firm faced tragedy and serious illness affecting members of the firm. A partner in the firm was killed in a car accident, a staff member has terminal cancer and the wife of a partner is also battling cancer.
“In each instance, Tom was the first member of the firm to contact me with suggestions for assistance for the affected individuals, including family members,” wrote Gilden. “Although he is fiscally conservative, he has always been generous in his suggestions for support of members of the firm and their families.”
The firm’s response has included arranging support and counseling services, providing meals at home, sending flowers on a weekly basis, continuation of wages and providing flexible work schedules.
Eagan is quick to credit others at the firm for the work environment.
“Everyone has a role in corporate culture,” he explained. “We’ve built a culture that fosters mutual support, creativity and teamwork, and we strive to have open communication among all members of the firm.”
He said it’s that collective mission that has helped the company stay strong in a competitive law market, especially when Partridge Snow & Hahn has offices spread out in Providence, Warwick, New Bedford and Westborough, Mass.
At the firm, Eagan is responsible for accounting, finance, personnel, technology, office space and administration.
Gilden said Eagan has juggled all of the responsibilities to near perfection.
Gilden said Eagan has been effective by not only surveying the external pressures of the market, but by constantly evaluating how the firm functions internally. He said several years ago the chief financial officer designed a profitability module for each practice area which helped identify key factors affecting profitability.
Eagan said the cost-accounting exercise helped identify pieces of the practice where more attention was needed and, in some cases, areas that needed to be eliminated or cut back.
“Yes, there were areas that we stopped doing. It is a very difficult thing for anyone to do at a professional organization, because when you have in-house work you don’t want to lose it,” he said. “You have to make the tough decisions.”
He said that couldn’t be more true than when the firm faced the start of the recession. In 2008, Eagan and other firm leaders recognized that they were staring at what would be a prolonged recession. They acted quickly by trimming expenses while keeping an eye on the big picture.
“While we were cutting costs and managing expenses, we also continued to make investments by bringing new attorneys on board and actually opening a new office in Westborough,” he said. When fiscal 2009 ended it proved to be one of the most profitable years for the firm. As a result, the partners of the firm awarded bonuses to all staff as an acknowledgement of their sacrifices. He said it’s that sense of employee appreciation that led to the firm being named one of the Best Places to Work in Rhode Island by Providence Business News twice, including last year.
Because Eagan heads not only finance but overall administration, his responsibilities extend to the ever-changing world of technology. Gilden said Eagan has handled the role masterfully.
“He has correspondingly overseen the introduction and growth of new technologies into the firm, including several iterations of financial-accounting software, each of which represented a significant improvement in accuracy and dependability,” Gilden stated.
Like most facets of the firm, Eagan says technology is a team effort and one that is a constant priority of his.
“Our attorneys are very dependent upon our computer and communication systems to perform legal work and communicate with clients, other attorneys and third parties,” he explained. “Access needs to be instant and available 24/7.”
Eagan certainly sounds the part of a computer-savvy executive, referring to the firm’s recent network upgrade that “utilizes a VDI environment” with “thin-clients.” Basically, he said, the technology allows attorneys easy access to network resources from each of the firm’s offices; whether the employee is at home or on the road, their interface with applications will be the same as though they were sitting at their desks back at the office.
Partners at the law firm might say VDI, or virtual desktop infrastructure, and recessions are child’s play compared to dealing with the lawyers themselves.
“While attorneys, particularly partners in law firms, can be difficult people to cope with, and difficult people to gain the trust of, Tom has earned a place at the head of the firm’s partner table,” Gilden added.
Eagan agrees that a law firm can be a demanding place to work, but says the same can be said about any professional-services organization.
“Lawyers, accountants, engineers … these are very bright, type-A personalities. They’re demanding of themselves and of the people they work with,” said Eagan, whose resume includes serving as the director of finance for Warwick and work at large accounting firms.
He added, “It’s rewarding to be in an environment with these bright, driven individuals and to be a peer. Being relied on for counsel on financial matters is very rewarding.”
Eagan said he has been successful professionally by balancing his personal and work life. Eagan, who is married and has three children, is involved in civic and charitable organizations, which has helped him with this balance, he said.
Eagan brings his expertise to the Boy Scouts of America’s Narragansett Council and the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Narragansett Chapter. He previously served on committees of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, Bishop Hendricken High School and St. Francis de Sales Church.
“All these organizations need people with a financial background,” he said. •

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