(Photo by Paul Godwin)
Project finance partner William Voge has been elected as Latham & Watkins’ next global chair and managing partner, succeeding firm veteran Robert Dell, who stood at the helm for 20 years.
Latham announced the results of the firm’s runoff election on Monday, which pitted Voge against former global finance practice vice chair Jeffrey Greenberg. Voge’s term will begin Jan. 1, 2015.
Voge’s election by a majority vote came in a two-way runoff triggered on July 11 after neither Voge, Greenberg nor a third candidate—Washington, D.C.-based corporate partner Paul Sheridan Jr.—received an absolute majority in the first round of voting. The election results were announced to the partnership shortly after 4 p.m. New York time on Monday.
Originally elected managing partner in 1994 at the age of 42, Dell is among the longest-serving executives of an Am Law 100 firm. But last November, a year before the end of his fourth five-year term approached, Dell, 62, announced that he would retire after his term ended on Dec. 31, 2014. Since then, the firm has been engaged in a lengthy and transparent succession process. The executive committee appointed a succession committee headed by New York litigation partner Miles Ruthberg, and several partners participated in the contest.
“The eight-month-long, rigorous succession process reaffirmed our shared values: strong collegial culture; inclusive and transparent approach to management; and team approach,” Ruthberg said in a statement. “I am especially proud of the candidates’ professionalism and mutual respect throughout the process. The diversity of highly qualified candidates is a testament to the enormous depth of talent and leadership experience in the firm.”
In electing the 57-year-old Voge, partners have chosen age and experience over a next-generation leader; both Greenberg and Sheridan are 43. But they won’t have to wait long if they feel inclined to run again: Voge (pronounced ‘Vogue-y”), a 30-year veteran of the firm who has long been part of Dell’s trusted inner circle, says he plans to serve as the firm’s executive for a single five-year term. “I told people I don’t think I’m in this beyond age 63,” he says.
Voge joined Latham as an associate in 1983 and was elected partner in 1991. As a rainmaking global project finance partner qualified in both U.S. and English law, he has been involved extensively in global growth and practice integration, serving in the New York, London and San Diego offices. He also played a key role in spearheading the opening of the firm’s Middle East offices. Between 1998 and 2002 and again from 2008 to 2012, Voge was elected to the firm’s executive committee; between 2007 and 2008, he also headed the global finance department.
Voge’s practice focuses on all aspects of project development and financings, but particularly on the largest projects within the fast-expanding global liquefied natural gas market. In December 2012, for instance, he represented eight export credit agencies and 33 commercial banks in the financing of a $20 billion liquefied natural gas project in Australia, among the largest global project financings in history, as well as an earlier $14 billion financing of a LNG project in Papua New Guinea that earned him a Dealmaker of the Year spot for 2011 in The American Lawyer. According to the firm, he is also deeply involved in pro bono work and sits on several nonprofit boards. Prior to attending law school, the firm notes, he served in the U.S. Army. He received a J.D. and an MBA from the University of California at Berkeley in 1983.
Voge told The American Lawyer that his plan is to spend his first 100 days strengthening his knowledge of the firm and the legal markets in which it competes. Over the course of the next five years, he says, his plan is “to complete Bob’s vision to make Latham one of the top global firms.” A key part of that effort, he says, has been strengthening New York and now London; both offices number around 300. “The fact is, what distinguishes us from others is that we put in the effort to get it right” in both cities, he says.
Voge’s runoff against Greenberg was first reported Monday by Legal Week citing unnamed sources. In May and June, at the behest of the succession committee, both candidates as well as Sheridan spent time visiting members at the firm’s 32 offices. Voge says he physically traveled to a dozen offices and teleconferenced with the rest.
Insiders said the election presented a conundrum: Voge had “very candidly said, ‘Look, I’m going to do one five-year term.’ Do partners want to go with someone who has many years at the firm and is well regarded but will likely only serve one term, or do they want to go with a younger person who has the potential to lead the firm for a long time?” says one person with knowledge of the elections.
The firm is known both for its collegial culture and a very democratic and transparent leadership process. Selections for openings in the nine-member executive committee often attract a dozen or so candidates and go through rounds of winnowing to reach a majority vote. “It’s not surprising that there’s a runoff for the chairman position, but it’s probably not what anybody at the firm expected or wanted,” the same source says.
Dell’s planned departure marks the end of an epoch at Latham. Since he took the reins in 1995, he has presided over a quadrupling of the firm’s head count and an eight-fold increase in revenues.
Last year, the firm had 2,060 lawyers and grossed $2.285 billion in revenue, up 2.7 percent from the year before, according to The Am Law 100′s latest figures. Its profits per partner grew 2 percent, to $2.49 million, and revenue per lawyer increased 1.4 percent, to $1.1 million.
Dell joined Latham as an associate when the litigation boutique Hedlund, Hunter & Lynch was acquired by Latham in 1982. He was elected to the partnership in 1985 and after that held a steady stream of management positions. When he began his post as the firm’s chief executive, the head count numbered 586; it now numbers more than 2,100, the firm said. He also presided over the firm’s aggressive international expansion. In 1995, for example, the firm had three international offices; it now has 21. The firm also moved up the pro bono ranks, ranking 22 on the Am Law 200 pro bono ranking last year, up from 72 in 1994; average hours of pro bono work per attorney soared to 93.5 from 29.6 during the same period.
Dell will assist the chair-elect in the transition for the rest of this year. But unlike most departing firm executives, he will not stay at the firm after his term ends. In November, he told The Am Law Daily that he felt it best for him to step aside completely in order to “get out of the way” of whoever succeeds him. “When a new person is coming in, following a person who has been doing it for two decades, I think that new person deserves a lot of space,” he said at the time. “So, my view is it’s best for me to retire and to let that person create his own successes, or her own.”
While Voge says he will continue the efforts begun by Dell, he says his style will be different. “I’m extremely candid and I’m faster to make decisions,” he says. “I like to keep things moving. As I look at some of the great global service firms and some that are doing less well, the difference often comes down to a loss of ambition, and an increase in complacency. We can’t afford to be complacent.”