Hogan Lovells co–CEOs J. Warren Gorrell Jr. and David Harris will vacate their posts when their current terms expire next summer, and the firm’s partners are in the process of voting to approve their proposed successor, global litigation cohead Stephen Immelt, the firm announced Wednesday.
Gorrell and Harris, both of whom are 59, have shared the CEO title since their respective legacy firms, Hogan & Hartson and Lovells, combined in a 2010 tie-up that the two men took the lead in negotiating. Their four-year terms are set to end next summer, and—pending the results of a firmwide partnership vote—Immelt is likely to step into the newly created sole CEO role as of July 1.
Should the partners approve Immelt’s ascension to CEO, he would be joined in the firm’s upper echelon by global finance practice head David Hudd, a London-based Lovells legacy partner set to fill a second newly created post, deputy CEO. After stepping down from their leadership positions, Harris plans to retire, while Gorrell will continue his M&A practice.
Hogan Lovells chair Nicholas Cheffings tells The Am Law Daily that he and his fellow board members decided to alter the firm’s structure after a poll of the partnership revealed that more than three years after the combination, “the vast majority thought that the time was right to move to a single CEO.”
The board began the search for candidates to fill the position in the fall after Gorrell and Harris said they did not intend to seek additional terms, before voting unanimously to submit Immelt’s name to the partners for consideration. The partnership vote opened Dec. 6 and will run until Monday.
Based in Washington, D.C., the 61-year-old Immelt sits on the firm’s international management committee. He previously served as managing partner of Hogan & Hartson’s Baltimore office, then became head of that firm’s international offices prior to the 2010 tie-up with Lovells.
Says Cheffings: “Steve has been part of [the firm's strategy], part of bringing Hogan Lovells together, and he understands the business.”
Gorrell says Immelt’s familiarity with the firm’s international operations, his leadership experience, and his reputation among his fellow partners made him an obvious choice for the CEO position. “Steve has great judgment and he’s a very strategic thinker,” Gorrell says. “He’s straightforward, he’s direct, and he commands huge respect from the partners around the firm.”
Claudette Christian, managing partner of Hogan Lovells’ recently launched Rio de Janeiro office, is among those voicing full support for Immelt as the right person to succeed Gorrell and Harris.The former cochair of the firm’s global board, Christian has known Immelt for at least 15 years, dating back to their time in various leadership positions at Hogan & Hartson. “He understands the global perspective a firm like Hogan Lovells needs to have,” she says. “He gets it and has for a while. He’s not new to management of foreign offices.”
For his part, Immelt sees plenty of opportunities ahead for Hogan Lovells and plans to continue steering the firm along the postcombination path on which it has embarked. “[I plan] to clearly articulate the vision and strategy, to continue to work to make sure that we’ve got a one-firm mind-set across the platform, and to work on leadership development—which is really crucial with an organization of our size,” he says.
While he acknowledges that being the first to serve as Hogan Lovells’ sole CEO represents “a challenge,” Immelt says he believes his international experience has helped him develop an understanding of the Asian and European markets that will prove useful in the post.
“They’re distinct,” says Immelt, whose brother Jeffrey is General Electric’s CEO. “They’ve got their own forces that operate, and yet we’re also seeing the globalization of legal services.”
As for Gorrell and Harris, both say the upcoming move comes at an opportune time. Gorrell, who became Hogan & Hartson’s chairman in 2001, has maintained his M&A practice throughout his tenure as a firm leader. He says he is looking forward to giving it his full attention and that the combined firm, which is structured as a Swiss verein, is now established enough for him to do so.
“I’ve always thought one of the hallmarks of good leadership is to make sure you have a smooth transition, and one of the keys is to identify the right time for a change and then to make it happen,” Gorrell says. “And it just so happens that everything has come together incredibly well to make this the right time to do this.”
For his part, Harris—who became Lovells’ managing partner in 2005 and was in the middle of his second term at the top when the firms joined forces—says he never planned to seek another term. “My decision [to retire] was really just a reaffirmation of what had been said previously,” Harris says.
Harris agrees that the time is right for a leadership change: “I think the firm is in a particularly strong position for this transition and it’s the right thing at this stage. So, I’m very confident that not only is it the right thing from my perspective, but I think it’s actually the right thing for the firm going forward.”
Not surprisingly, Gorrell and Harris agree that Hogan Lovells will be best served going forward with one person at the helm. Says Gorrell: “Every business ultimately needs a single CEO, and that’s one way of assuring that you really have a one-firm approach and everything works its way, either up or down, through the CEO.”
Adds Harris: “We don’t talk about the merger anymore. We go on ourselves and we operate as one firm. … But, inevitably, there is a perception that you have some historic affiliation with the legacy firm from which you’ve come, and I think it’s important, given where we are as a firm now, to move beyond that.”
Immelt and Hudd, 55, have known each other since playing roles on the teams from their respective legacy firms that hammered out the deal that brought the firms together. Hudd took over Lovells’ global finance practice in 2005, and Immelt and the Hogan Lovells board agreed that the U.K. attorney would be well-suited for the deputy role.
Immelt believes Hudd’s background in finance matters will complement his own experience as a litigator. Hudd views his pending role as a supportive one focused primarily on overseeing the firm’s finances and does not envision any split of U.S. and U.K. duties.
“[Immelt is] the CEO, he’s responsible for developing the firm’s strategy,” says Hudd, adding that he is also likely to spend some of his energy developing the firm’s transactional practices. “My job is to assist him in executing that strategy.”
Though Hudd’s familiarity with his fellow former Lovells attorneys did factor into his selection to the deputy post, Gorrell downplays the importance of that association: “I wouldn’t say it wasn’t a factor, because it was a factor. But it wasn’t anywhere close to being an important factor.”
Gorrell is quick to emphasize that just because Immelt and Hudd come from the two sides of Hogan Lovells’s legacy firms does not mean the firm is trying to replicate the co–CEO structure. “Steve is in charge, he’s the CEO,” Gorrell says. “And David is going to support Steve, taking some functional responsibilities in areas [such as] finance or operations, as well as just supporting Steve generally on whatever Steve asks him to do.”
Immelt says he hopes he can “bring a clarity of vision” to his new role that will help the firm continue to execute its strategy of targeted growth. Last month, Hogan Lovells announced that it was combining with 120-lawyer South African firm Routledge Modise in a move meant that give the firm its first outpost in the area and offers coverage of a hot legal market in sub-Saharan Africa. Earlier this year, Hogan Lovells expanded its Latin American operations by opening its Rio de Janeiro office.
Though Hogan Lovells expects to continue growing, Immelt says the firm plans to do so cautiously. “We will continue to look at markets in Latin America, look at Africa, look at Asia, but I don’t see a proliferation of offices,” he says. “I think we’ll continue to be fairly disciplined and careful about that.”
Hogan Lovells currently takes 45 percent of its total billings in the Americas, and 48 percent in Europe. The balance comes from Asia and the Middle East. The firm placed seventh on The American Lawyer’s most recent Am Law 100 ranking with $1.6 billion in gross revenue and profits per partner of $1.09 million.