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Vice President and Assistant General Counsel for Litigation International Business Machines Corp. 2004 Revenues: $96.5 billion Lawyers in Legal Department: 300
At the mediation table about three years ago, Donald Rosenberg, International Business Machines Corp.’s vice president and assistant general counsel for litigation, was looking at a very appealing settlement offer on a plaintiff’s claim for tens of millions of dollars. Then Rosenberg had a hunch; he knew IBM had done nothing wrong, and he sensed the other side believed that, too. To his outside counsel’s amazement, Rosenberg walked out, ending the negotiations. The result: After finding the plaintiff had made up evidence, the judge dismissed the case. Rosenberg’s decision saved his company millions. You don’t want to play poker with Don Rosenberg, who knows when to hold ‘em, knows when to fold ‘em, and, from all accounts, knows how to make you eat ‘em if he wants. IBM outside counsel William Urquhart, who has worked on dozens of settlements with Rosenberg, calls him one of the most skillful negotiators he has ever seen. “He’s tough. It’s a game of chicken, and he has the courage to walk away [when he feels he has to],” says Urquhart, a partner in the Los Angeles office of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges. Rosenberg, 53, says he relies on his instincts. “I can read people,” he says, “I can hear what they’re saying, not just their words but what’s motivating them, what they really want.” He has spent his entire 25-year career with Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM. His duties include supervising a staff of 40, including 11 other litigation lawyers, overseeing IBM’s global litigation efforts, and coordinating with government regulatory agencies. While fiercely loyal to IBM and his department, Rosenberg wouldn’t mind a new challenge. He admits that “being a general counsel is something that, at this stage of my life, is what’s left.” And he would love for that to happen at IBM. But Rosenberg adds, “We have [a GC], and he’ll be here as long as he chooses.” Edward Lineen, a 35-year IBM veteran, was not available for comment. While colleagues and adversaries say Rosenberg is a calm and gentle man by nature, they don’t doubt his toughness. Former opponent Eric Dubelier, now a partner with Reed Smith in Washington, D.C., was an assistant U.S. attorney pursuing a criminal case against IBM in the mid-1990s. In 15 years of prosecuting, Dubelier says, he never met any in-house counsel as passionate and involved as Rosenberg. For his part, Rosenberg savors a particular victory in the 1990s, when he played a key role in convincing a federal court to terminate IBM’s 1956 antitrust consent decree, which barred the computer giant from offering technology consulting services. “It was outdated and burdensome,” he says. Besides his passion for the law, Rosenberg confesses he has “an insatiable interest and fascination with Winston Churchill.” He says he treats every suit as though it were the most important one. But he never gets so invested in the negotiating process that he’s afraid to leave the room. And, paraphrasing Churchill, he says, “Persevere. Never accept defeat, never.”

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