Immanuel Kohn, a corporate partner at Cahill Gordon & Reindel and longtime chairman of the firm’s executive committee, died yesterday at his Princeton, N.J., home from lung cancer. He was 86.
Kohn joined Cahill in 1953 and became a partner in 1962. He chaired the firm’s executive committee for 15 years, from 1990 through December 2005. Called "Ike" by family and friends, he became senior counsel when he stepped down as chairman.
Kohn was a top deal maker at Cahill and longtime adviser to Dillon Read & Co., Engelhard Corporation, RCA/NBC, Massey-Ferguson, AIG and Marsh & McLennan. In the 1970s and 1980s, he led Massey-Ferguson through restructurings, including the $250 million bail-out by the Canadian government and the province of Ontario. He was the lead lawyer for the U.S. Treasury Department during the restructuring of Chrysler Corp. in 1979.
Kohn earned his LL.B. from Yale University in 1953. He graduated from Deerfield Academy in 1944 and Harvard College in 1949.
In 1972, at age 46, Kohn was appointed to Cahill’s executive committee. As his fellow committee members retired in the 1980s and were replaced by younger partners, Kohn emerged as the dominant force at Cahill, and in 1990 he was appointed chairman of the executive committee, according to a July 2003 profile of the firm’s management in The American Lawyer, a Law Journal affiliate.
"Cahill has perfected the art of making money with a gritty management style overseen by firm chairman Immanuel Kohn. The firm watches its expenses like a Depression-era grandmother nursing a dwindling retirement fund. It doesn’t spend money on business consultants, and not a dime on advertising," the article said.
Floyd Abrams, a member of the firm’s executive committee and its litigation practice group, said in an interview that Kohn "really led the firm to be very careful in expenditures on matters that were not essential or even terribly useful."
In general, that "fiscally prudent" style that Kohn embraced has remained with the firm, including under the current leadership of William Hartnett, chairman of Cahill Gordon’s executive committee, Abrams said.
"This is a time when we’ve seen some firms have not prospered as a result of imprudent spending and obligations; we’ve tried very hard to avoid that and under Ike’s leadership and thereafter we quite deliberately have run a very tight ship," Abrams said.
Kohn was described as a leader who shaped every major management decision, taking a large role in determining partner compensation and defending the firm’s less-is-more business model. Kohn opposed the opening of satellite offices, regarding them as inefficient, the American Lawyer article said.
Abrams said a main motivation for having fewer satellite offices was to maintain firm unity.
"We were best off by having one central location where everybody came to work and everybody worked together," Abrams said. "And while we had and still have very valuable satellite offices, they are quite deliberately small."
Abrams said that when he started at the firm in 1963, Kohn was "already legendary."
"He really set the standard for a generation of Cahill lawyers about what was expected of them," Abrams said, such as "an intense work ethic, an extremely demanding sense of professionalism and absolute dedication to client service."
Abrams said he also remembers Kohn defending young partners and associates in situations where others in the firm made claims that they had missed something of minor importance, such as a single inaccurate citation in a brief, he said.
"He was able to view the person and the product as a whole," Abrams said.
During Kohn’s term as executive committee chairman, revenue rose to $229 million in 2005 from $130 million in 1990, while profits per partner rose to $2.285 million from $1.085 million in the same period, according to American Lawyer financial rankings.
Last year, the firm’s revenue rose to $348.5 million, while its profits per partner jumped to $3.555 million, according to a preview of the 2012 financial results from the magazine.
The firm in a statement said Kohn "was the definition of a Renaissance man." He served as a trustee of the Institute for Advanced Study, a center for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry, from 1997 to 2006, and served on various committees of the institute.
He also served as a trustee of the Shaw Festival, which was established as a non-profit group to produce the dramatic works of George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries, and sat on the advisory board of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra.
An opera lover, he regularly attended performances at the Metropolitan Opera.
Kohn was born in Jerusalem and spent the first seven years of his life in the Middle East and Europe.
"He enjoyed telling people that he’d attended nursery school in Vienna, kindergarten in Cairo and first and second grades in Jerusalem," the firm said. His father, Hans Kohn, was a newspaper correspondent, historian and writer who came to the United States with his family in 1934 and taught at various universities.
Vera Sharpe Kohn, whom Kohn married in 1950, said in an interview that former clients became close friends and stayed in contact after her husband stepped down from Cahill’s leadership.
The Kohns met in Paris during the summer of 1948, she said. Their lives didn’t change much when he became chairman of the firm’s executive committee, she said.
"He was always involved and busy," she said, but "we had a lot of wonderful time together."
"He was a remarkable man," she said, adding, "I’m prejudiced. I’ve loved him for 65 years."
In addition to his wife, he is survived by their four children: Gail, Peter, Sheila and Robert, whose wife Susan Hendrickson is a partner at Arnold & Porter; and six grandchildren.
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