From October 2016: I have the pleasure of introducing one of our newest panelists, Al Tetrault, for this edition of “Meet Our Mediators.” It’s a pleasure because, not only is Al is an educated, interesting, and extremely accomplished individual, but also he and I have been in the trenches together. No, not the war, I mean mediating a dispute with a pro se litigant. I was actually one of Al’s “mentors.” No matter how accomplished you are, the Florida Supreme Court Dispute Resolution Center requires observation of mediation with a certified mediator or “mentoring” for certification. To suggest that I would be the “mentor” to Al’s “novice” clearly demonstrates the absurdity of that requirement given Al’s wealth of experience. He’s been a pilot and an Air Force officer. He flew a tour of duty in Vietnam. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School. He has worked for named players in the computer industry, including a stint as CEO at a startup internet company. Given his decades of work outside the field of litigation, I asked Al to share with us some of his background and experience.
After graduating from the University of Connecticut, I joined the USAF and completed pilot training. My initial assignment was in the C-130, flying internationally to support the military and space programs. After a tour of duty in Vietnam, flying the C-123, I left the Air Force to pursue an MBA at Harvard Business School. I worked initially in the computer industry for IBM and Digital Equipment Corporation, spending the next 23 years in corporate America. My last leadership role was as CEO of a startup internet company. During this time, I also married and raised two children, a daughter and son, with my wife, Helen, and when our nest was empty we relocated from Atlanta to Florida where we had spent many happy years in our second home in St. Augustine.
I had been too active too long to be satisfied with “retirement,” so I enrolled in law school. It was during law school that I realized that my extensive business and leadership experience in the computer and aviation industries could be put to use immediately in mediation. After my admission to the Florida Bar, I became certified as a Circuit Civil Mediator. Although my legal education provides an important background for my work as a mediator, I have found that applying the skills I honed as a pilot, CEO and business leader are just as important in working with people and resolving disputes.
What did you like most about your prior career?
I started my business career in sales, and I learned that nothing happens in a company until somebody sells something. I also learned that selling is not about the salesperson, but about the customer. Unless the sales department can show how its product or service can resolve a problem for the customer, no sale will be made. I liked sharing success with customers, many of whom became clients and friends. Sales success is mutual success, when done right. This is very similar to mediation, where resolving the dispute between parties is a win-win matter.
What is your favorite part of being a mediator?
Very few business and legal situations lead to real-time resolution. Mediation is the exception. In 85 percent of all mediations, the parties reach agreement to resolve the dispute, reduce that agreement to writing, and are relieved of continuing a stressful and potentially unproductive situation. The vast majority of mediations are concluded in a single business day. More-complex disputes may take longer, but heading home there is a gentle euphoria when the dispute is resolved.
What do you wish people did more often in mediation?
Perhaps the most important condition to a successful mediation is that the parties, and their counsel, be present. By this I mean to be mindful of the current situation and the current opportunity. It means not looking to the past and placing blame on the other party, but acknowledging that a dispute currently exists, and trying to project a resolution for the future. Mediation is a forward -looking process, grounded in the present. This requires active listening, not reacting to the last statement made by the opposing party, or perhaps more particularly, the attorneys representing the parties.
What is something about you not too many people are aware of?