High tech may be the business story of the decade. But when historians look back on this century, they may see something else as the dominant economic theme of the last 50 years: the conversion of the corporation into a commodity that was bought, sold, rebought, spun off, taken private, leveraged, and then deleveraged and taken public again. Joe Flom was instrumental in that reinvention of American business, helping to engineer many of the biggest proxy fights of the sixties and the hostile tender offers of the seventies and eighties. At the same time, he had a vision for his law firm that turned Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom – an upstart even in the 1960s – into the largest legal business in the world, with revenues approaching $1 billion.
With his perennial foil, Martin Lipton of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, Flom defined the takeover field and saw it through to its climax in the 1980s. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett partner John Finley says that both men had the kind of effect on their field that Babe Ruth had on baseball: “Not only were they great, but they defined the practice; they defined M&A advising. . . . They were a brand name.”
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