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Hans Keeling

Hans Keeling began his S&C career as a summer associate in the Los Angeles and Frankfurt offices and was an associate in the General Practice Group from 2001 to 2004. He then left to found Nexus Surf, an upscale surf and adventure-travel company in Florianopolis, an island off Brazil’s southern coast. Since then, he has also become a real estate developer.
How did your career lead you in this direction?
During my time at S&C, I learned what it means to be a true professional and how big business is transacted at the highest levels around the world. However, I always had a strong entrepreneurial nature. I also dreamt of working internationally again. On a New Year’s vacation at the end of 2003, I traveled with several college friends to Brazil. I was really taken by the culture—a wonderful and friendly people, living life very passionately and in the moment. Something in me said I could really live here. So, while I loved S&C, I returned from this vacation on a Sunday night and gave my three-week notice the next morning. I remember having faith in the fact that all that I had learned at S&C about hard work, professionalism, attention to detail, and thinking on the spot and out-of-the-box would serve me well whatever I ended up doing.
Where did the idea for Nexus come from?
The idea was actually born during a trip planned for a good friend of mine from college who was getting married. As we were planning the trip, we searched for a destination that would suit us—good surf and fun things to do during the day, but also nice, upscale accommodations and a diversity of nightlife and restaurants. Basically, we couldn’t find it. By this time, I had been to Florianopolis and had fallen in love with it. It struck me as the perfect destination for the type of trip we, as young professionals looking for a well-rounded and active vacation, wanted but couldn’t find.
Are you pursuing any other entrepreneurial ventures?
Nexus Surf has led to many other doors opening, such as building, selling and leasing luxury villas through my second company, Floripa Vacation Homes; hosting upscale clientele from around the world (our client list includes owners of pro-sports franchises, CEOs of publicly traded companies, Hollywood personalities and even a member of the Forbes 400 list).
What’s the best part about your work?
For one, I have the opportunity to meet interesting people from around the world. I get to deal with things I’d do for fun even if I weren’t working. Professionally speaking, I enjoy solving problems and being creative, working on everything from marketing and strategic planning to HR and administrative decisions. It’s a lot of work, and of course the unglamorous side is you end up doing a lot of little things you’d never have to deal with at a big company, but overall, I very much enjoy the diversity of challenges that you face as an entrepreneur.
What did you enjoy about working at S&C?
I really enjoyed the fast-paced work atmosphere and being trusted as a young associate with a lot of professional responsibility. To be able to work on incredibly large and important financial transactions for me was a great learning experience. But most of all, I loved working with the people at S&C. I feel honored to have worked with such outstanding professionals, both at the partner and the associate level—extremely bright, motivated individuals with great values and integrity. Today, I have many close friends from the Firm and am in touch with many of the folks with whom I worked. Whenever I’m in Los Angeles, I make it a point to stop by the office to catch up.
How did your S&C experience prepare you for a world beyond law? Do you draw on your law firm experience now?
People sometimes ask me when I tell them about my career change, “wow, weren’t you sorry to waste all those years of legal education and practice?” to which my answer is a resounding “no!” For me, both my legal education and practice were a great foundation for what I do now. The things I learned, the people I met, all helped form who I am today and allow me to approach the issues I face today with a unique perspective, one that most people in my position would not be so fortunate to have. So yes, I definitely draw on my past experiences today professionally, just many times in quite subtle ways. (Of course, I’m no longer marking up indentures or relying on the finer exceptions to rules in the Securities Act.)
What advice would you give to those considering a career shift?
Really take the time to consider what you enjoy and are interested in. Try to think of what you like to do in your free time, when money isn’t at stake or even an issue. Second, dare to be different and get off the beaten path. Not only is it sometimes easier that way (you’re not competing against all the other type A, hard-working and super-smart individuals for just a few limited spots), but it can be more rewarding. Last but not least, think about where your competitive advantages lie. What can you do better or differently than anyone else? What about your background, education, skills and interests makes you particularly well-suited for something?
Do your days at S&C ever intersect with your current career?
Yes, several associates from the Los Angeles office visited me, and a few others are hoping to make it down in the future. Just recently, a client of mine who worked in the finance industry and I were sitting on the beach having lunch. When I told him I worked at S&C, the client said, “No way! I’m working on a deal right now with a partner from the L.A. office, Alison Ressler!” He pulled out his BlackBerry and emailed Alison that he was on the beach in Brazil having lunch with me. It really is a small world!
Favorite beach: Praia Mole Beach in Florianopolis, Brazil
Favorite book: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

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