Editors’ Note: As part of our ongoing Faces of MoFo series and in celebration of Pride Month, John Tawadrous, an associate in the firm’s Finance Department, discusses how his experiences affected his desire to practice law and how it served as the foundation for his career at MoFo.
My journey to MoFo begins in Sydney, Australia. I am the third (and youngest) child of first-generation Egyptian and Lebanese immigrant parents. I grew up in a Middle Eastern ethnic enclave in Western Sydney (20 miles or so west of the picturesque Bondi Beach that Sydney is notorious for) and went to a religious primary school and high school. I was a deeply closeted child and teenager, and academic achievement was my “mask.” I used this mask, alongside the discipline of my economically disadvantaged immigrant parents (my father worked as a taxi driver and my mother primarily focused on domestic duties), to propel myself through my schooling years. I graduated as the “dux” (valedictorian) of my high school and achieved an “Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank” in the top 1% of students nationwide in my class year. In Australia, after completing high school, students who aspire to become lawyers can make this decision as young as 17 years old (a stark contrast to the U.S., where such disciplines are reserved for graduate-level studies). I faced pressure from my parents regarding the choice of my tertiary degree, as they wanted to ensure I would choose a path that would give me more financial security and better prospects than what they had. I was interested in business, entrepreneurship, and law, and so I enrolled in the combined five-year Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws program at the University of Sydney.
Throughout my life, I have viewed myself as an “underdog” due to my family history and circumstances. New York City was a place where I dreamed of living, to discover my identity without the pressures of family, ethnicity, and religion, to be challenged and to have greater career opportunities and prospects. These were big aspirations, particularly for a highly competitive and selective market like New York. To me, achieving this would be the ultimate underdog “success” story. After considering my options, my goal was to try to make a lateral move after a few years of equivalent professional practice experience. Getting my “foot in the door” for such practice in Sydney meant securing a “summer clerkship” position at a “Big Six” firm (the top law firms in Australia), an intensely competitive process. Through merit, and a lot of luck, I managed to a secure a summer offer to a Big Six Sydney firm, which led to a post-law-school graduate role—one step closer to making my aspirations a reality.
After graduating from law school, I chose to focus my practice on corporate finance, not only because of my interest in the practice area, but also because of its global portability. While diversity was important and celebrated at the firms I worked at in Sydney, I remained closeted, personally and professionally, and lived in my family home (commensurate with Middle Eastern ethnic custom and for financial reasons). I became increasingly eager to pursue my dream of living and working in New York. Shortly following a vacation to New York at the end of 2016, I received an email from a recruiter who presented a unique and unexpected opportunity: a big law firm in New York was specifically focused on hiring five or more Australian finance associates at my class-year level. I went through the process and got an offer. In February 2017, I relocated 10,000 miles from Sydney to New York City, to live on my own for the first time, and see my dreams become reality. I am forever grateful and honored to have worked for the firm that gave me my start in New York. From a professional perspective, I am grateful for the invaluable technical training and exposure to clients and complex financing work. Far more significantly, however, from a personal perspective, this opportunity gave me access to New York City, where I could be “born again,” and finally discover and celebrate my identity both personally and professionally.
I lateralled to MoFo in October 2019. I’ve had the privilege of being able to diversify my finance practice, learn new skills, and gain exposure to clients in a range of industries and various capacities. I’ve worked with, learned from, and collaborated with brilliant MoFo lawyers from all across the world (e.g., San Francisco, Washington D.C., Miami, Denver, London, Berlin, and Tokyo), where our commitment to client service and excellence is unwavering. At MoFo, I have elevated my skills—through leading or otherwise playing pivotal key roles—closing 10 new originations thus far in 2022, with over $1 billion in commitments, for a range of national and multinational borrower and lender clients. One of the most unique opportunities I have had at MoFo was to be part of the pro bono cross-practice group MoFo team, led by MoFo Partner Suz Mac Cormac, establishing the California Rebuilding Fund: a public benefit limited liability company that has raised over $100 million in public and private capital to make affordable loans, through Community Development Financial Institutions, to small business owners (including women, minorities, immigrants, and low-income individuals who were most at risk of not gaining access to government support) recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Diversity is engrained at MoFo and my status as an LGBTQIA+ individual has, and continues to be, viewed as an asset by the firm. I am mindful that prior generations of similarly situated professional LGBTQIA+ individuals may not have been afforded such equality or support, and recognize their efforts to break down barriers to equal opportunity, which have led us to this place. There is still work to be done to achieve full inclusivity: more sponsorship, mentorship, advocacy and access to opportunities and networks is needed to ensure LGBTQIA+ lawyers can bring their true authentic selves to the workplace and thrive. I am grateful for and humbled by the visibility given by MoFo during Pride Month to share some of my story and to have the opportunity to be authentic.
Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with my partner, family (via FaceTime), and friends, going to the gym and lifting weights, attending live music festivals and costume parties, exploring new restaurants and nightlife venues, hiking, going to the beach, and traveling.