jon's deal in the east

What is the definining moment that sets people on their career path?

Thursday, 16th February 2017, 5:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 1st March 2017, 7:41 am
Jon Curtis

For some, it’s being in the right place at the right time.

Jon Curtis owes his 20-year legal career to the fall of the Berlin Wall. A founding partner of Sheffield commercial law specialists Ironmonger Curtis, he went to work in the former East Germany just two years after the wall fell. The reunification of Germany had taken place the year before, giving new opportunity to the millions who had lived under communist rule in the East. Jon arrived in the city of Leipzig, becoming a salesman with a UK training company and language school. At 26 he pulled off the sales deal of his life; 200 opencast miners needed to learn English for their American employer. Jon closed the deal and used the commission to find a better career.

Jon's Moscow flat view

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“I did a basic psychometric personality profile,” said Jon.

“It told me my ideal career was in the law.”

Armed with a business degree, he enrolled on a distance-learning UK law conversion course.

“I studied around my job, experiencing German life as it made the transition from Communism.

Jon's Moscow flat view

“I expected it to be a rather repressed and frightening place, but the people were wonderful; they hadn’t been subjected to media or advertising and weren’t so cynical. I was one of the first Westerners many had met.

“Everyone had a fair wage and enough fuel and food. There was no cultural segmentation, no class system; people were more equal and well-educated.”

Jon had to continue his long-distance law course in even more unusual surroundings, when, in 1996, the company sent him to start an affiliate office in Moscow.

”They called it the Wild East. There was hardly any legal regulation and little commercial infrastructure. I had to go every Friday to a bank off Red Square to draw out $15,000 in roubles, and walk back to the office with the money in a plastic bag to pay everybody’s wages.”

Jon came to Sheffield University in 1997 for his Law Society finals and began his legal career, setting up practice with Trevor Ironmonger.