Editor’s note: This is one of an occasional series in WRAL TechWire where we interview Triangle tech legends. Today’s interview is also our regular Startup Profile story, each post in that feature appearing on Mondays.
RALEIGH – One day, while practicing in Raleigh, attorney Fred Hutchison was asked to cover a meeting on the topic of incubators and accelerators. After the meeting, Hutchison oriented his law practice to focus specifically on startups.
Now, 25 years later, the firm is ranked by PitchBook as a top 5 venture law firm in the Southeast and celebrating its 25th anniversary with a move to a new headquarters office in Raleigh along Corporate Center Drive.
“Fred is smart, committed, and always willing to take a meeting,” said Dan Fuchs, a managing partner at Hutchison PLLC. “He’s always willing to listen and learn, and Fred is dedicated to helping and connecting people.”
That’s particularly true with entrepreneurs, at least since that initial meeting 25 years ago.
“Entrepreneurs are unique individuals with the drive and determination to venture out into areas with a large number of unknowns, particularly funding, and yet they thrive in that environment,” Hutchison wrote five years ago, in acknowledging the firm’s 20th anniversary.
By the firm’s tenth anniversary in 2006, Hutchison had firmly established his reputation in the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the Triangle. Hutchison was the first president of the board of directors for the Council for Entrepreneurial Development, CED, and was honored by the state of North Carolina in 2006 when he received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award, the highest award for state service granted by the Office of the Governor of North Carolina, and an honor granted by the state to individuals who have shown extraordinary service.
“Fred Hutchison has worked tirelessly in support of the entrepreneurial spirit in our state for more than a quarter of a century,” said Robert McMahan, the State Science and Technology Advisor and executive director of the North Carolina Board of Science and Technology in presenting the award in 2006 on behalf of Governor Mike Easley. “His efforts, mostly voluntary, have resulted in billions of dollars of equity investment in our early-stage technology companies and the creation of thousands of jobs.”
According to Bill Wofford, a partner at Hutchison PLLC, Hutchison’s leadership style evolved over the years.
“For a time, it was primarily about leading by example and making quick decisions,” said Wofford. “It evolved to one where he encouraged others to consider hard questions and share their views, and he would then seek to forge a consensus.”
That style of leadership was invigorating, said Wofford, noting that Hutchison appears tireless and demonstrates dedication. “Once you’ve earned his trust, he takes a very hands-off approach, while remaining available as a resource or sounding board,” said Wofford. “And no one works harder than Fred.”
In addition to his role in the founding of CED, said Wofford, Fred Hutchison played a key role in bolstering the First Flight Venture Center during a time of need, including choosing to station an office in the facility, held leadership positions at the United Way of the Greater Triangle and the Triangle Community Foundation, and created Research Triangle Ventures. Wofford also shared that Hutchison played a role in recruiting the Carolina Hurricanes hockey team to the region, and noted that he’d also helped nurture hundreds of startups “that have created countless jobs and immeasurable wealth.”
“Fred is a great leader and mentor,” said Helga Leftwich, retired partner at Hutchison PLLC. “And an amazingly creative problem solver—I can’t remember a time when I left a meeting with Fred about an issue without some concrete ideas as to how we might best resolve the issue.”
In many ways, Hutchison is a visionary, said Joy Tiffany, former Hutchison PLLC office manager, always looking forward to the future and adapting to a changing world. “I consider Fred one of my closest friends after working for and with him for almost 40 years,” said Tiffany. “I know that he respects my opinion as much as I respect his.”
One aspect of how Hutchison would choose to lead, said Tiffany, was clear early: his work ethic. Still, said Tiffany, Hutchison was never too busy to answer questions, and would make time to answer any and all questions. This fed directly into one of the highest values that Hutchison embodies, so much so that it became a value for the entire organization: responsiveness.
“Probably the most important thing I learned from him is responsiveness,” said Tiffany. “Even if I didn’t know the answer, I would acknowledge a call and then follow up.”
The firm still recruits based on those values, said Fuchs, and especially on responsiveness. Of course, said Fuchs, the embodiment of those values starts at the top, and started with Fred Hutchison.
“Fred also embodies generosity,” said Wofford, noting that Hutchison displays “a commitment to the well-being of all residents of the Triangle.” The achievements of the firm are listed on the organization’s website.
“He loves what he does,” said Fuchs.