May 09, 2011
the summer of 2010, David Grossman ’11 headed to Central America to
join a group attempting to mountain bike from Nicaragua to Ecuador.
He never imagined how that 1000 mile journey would alter the course
of his life. He talks to Law School Communications Director Lori
Herz about his work as an entrepreneur with a social mission and
how he draws on the skills he gained in law school.
LH: There’s an ancient saying that “a journey of a thousand
miles begins with a single step.” You certainly personify the
adage. What brought you to St. John’s?
DG: I studied business management as an undergraduate at
Northwestern and then spent several years in the financial world.
Although I found success in that field, I wanted to work for a
small company or in my own venture and take real ownership of the
day-to-day operations and long-term viability of an enterprise. I
went to St. John’s intent on honing my writing, analytical and
advocacy skills so I could get in the door when the right business
LH: And how did you find yourself far off our Queens campus
in the wilds of Central America?
DG: As a 2L coming into the summer of 2010, I had no doubt I was
vastly benefiting from my law studies, but I was becoming
disheartened in the face of the very challenging job market.
Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I decided to look at the
situation as a blessing in disguise and, at that point, there was a
major shift in my attitude towards my future. I thought maybe my
fate didn't entail 100-hour work weeks at a law firm. Maybe I could
achieve something unique with my diverse skill set that I hadn't
thought of yet. I had a great internship offer, but I’d already
benefited from several internships and knew it was time to do
something different. So I headed to Central America for the
mountain bike trek.
LH: What was it about Nicaragua that captured your
attention and sparked your entrepreneurial interest?
DG: Beyond the country's wild beauty, I was caught off guard by how
much opportunity existed everywhere I looked. I couldn't go very
far without finding enterprising and intelligent individuals who
had the courage to create their own businesses amidst the jungle
and surf of Nicaragua. I was tremendously inspired by what I saw
and I became determined to get involved in some way, even if it was
just a side business or small investment. Now you have you
understand, I’m a New Yorker through and through. Up until this
point, I had every intention of working as an attorney in New York
City. But everything changed when I realized what was possible in
this place. It certainly didn't hurt that I’m an avid surfer,
mountain biker and yoga practitioner. Nicaragua is an absolute
wonderland for these activities.
LH: Can you tell me a little bit about your ventures
DG: As an initial venture, I partnered up with two other young men
who were constructing a surf lodge called the Dreamcatcher. I was
eager to get involved and they believed I could provide value on
both the legal and business development fronts. The three of us
ventured to finish the surf lodge and to develop an adjacent
property into an eight-unit condo-hotel community. My primary
responsibilities include, but are certainly not limited to:
Coordinating the legal side of our business both in the U.S. and in
Nicaragua; helping manage our hotel; structuring our transactions;
raising investment funds; and working with our seasoned Nicaraguan
attorney on countless issues from land rights to becoming
registered under Nicaragua's tourism incentive law.
LH: Given the goals you had entering law school, building a
thriving business like this must be very meaningful and rewarding
DG: Yes, it is. But I derive even greater meaning and reward from
the work we’re doing to support the community and its people.
First, we employ over 40 people in a place where regular work at
above-average pay is very difficult to come by. Second, we have a
youth program to help local children learn English and valuable
life skills through surfing. As a third endeavor, we recently
established a new L.L.C. called Tranquilo Maderas which will focus
on exporting sustainable wood and locally produced furniture. We
take great comfort in knowing that this venture will majorly
enhance the financial footing of a large portion of some of the
poorest Nicaraguans. By clearing up to 50,000 acres of wood felled
by Hurricane Mitch, these folks will finally be able to go back to
farming their land. They’ll also benefit from the jobs we’ll create
and the proceeds from the sale of wood. Finally, we recently
purchased a previously forested 45 acre property, which we’ll turn
into a private reserve restored to its original state. This
property will include a small eco-lodge and an organic farm to
provide our entire development with fresh vegetables and dairy
LH: How did your St. John’s legal education prepare you for
your work as an international social entrepreneur?
DH: I’m proud to say that I use many of the skills I’ve fostered at
St. John's on a daily basis. My job requires frequent communication
with investors, buyers and my business partners. My time as a
member of the Dispute Resolution Society has equipped me to
successfully negotiate business discussions, transactions and
relationships with confidence. The countless hours I’ve spent
honing my writing skills in law school have not only enhanced the
quality of my writing, but have made business writing an absolute
pleasure for me. Lastly, due to the diverse nature of our
businesses, we have to make numerous decisions on a wide range of
issues. The analytical skills I’ve developed as a law student have
aided me in quickly assessing our options and making responsible
decisions. And, to be sure, St. John’s Vincentian heritage aligns
with my ventures’ social mission. I consider myself very fortunate
to have found this line of work and I’m certain I wouldn't be here
without my St. John's education.
LH: David, thank you for sharing your story with