L-R: Glenn Hendrix, Jonathan Eady and Jonathan Golden of Arnall Golden Gregory. (John Disney/Daily Report)
Arnall Golden Gregory will get a new leader in January. Jonathan Eady will take over as managing partner from Glenn Hendrix, who’s had the post for eight years.
The firm limits managing partners to two four-year terms, opening the door for Eady, who co-chairs the firm’s real estate practice. Hendrix will become the firm’s chairman, and its longtime chairman, Jonathan Golden, will become chairman emeritus.
Like his predecessors, Eady will continue to practice law. He’s the lead lawyer for The Integral Group on its ambitious redevelopment of the former General Motors plant in Doraville into a mixed-use project.
With 164 lawyers, Arnall Golden is a midsize firm, an increasingly rare breed in a rapidly consolidating industry, where the largest U.S. firms have supersized through mergers over the past decade.
Founded in 1949, it’s the oldest firm in Atlanta still operating under its original name, Golden said. His father, Sol Golden, started the firm with a former Georgia governor, Ellis Arnall, and Cleburne Gregory Jr. Its only office outside Atlanta is in Washington.
Eady said the firm’s partners made a deliberate choice more than a decade ago to stay independent rather than be acquired by a larger firm. In the mid-2000s, when the conventional wisdom was that midsize firms must get larger to survive, Arnall Golden entertained talks with other firms, such as Powell Goldstein and Pittsburgh-based Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, Nicholson Graham.
Powell Goldstein, a midsize, 220-lawyer Atlanta firm, was acquired in 2009 by national firm Bryan Cave, and Kirkpatrick & Lockhart went on a merger spree that transformed it into K&L Gates, with more than 2,000 lawyers globally.
After initial fallout from the recession, Arnall Golden has grown under Hendrix’s guidance. He became managing partner right as the financial crisis was brewing.
The growth has been organic, Hendrix emphasized. The largest group of laterals Arnall Golden has ever added, he said, was three lawyers to launch the Washington office in 2011. It now has 18 lawyers.
During Hendrix’s tenure, head count has increased from about 130 lawyers to 164. Revenue has increased by almost 28 percent since the end of 2007, to $79.5 million in 2014. In that period, profit per equity partner has gone from $560,000 to $710,000.
As managing partner, Hendrix formalized an industry-focused approach that has allowed the firm to develop national practices, despite its comparatively small size.
Teams of lawyers across practice groups immerse themselves in niche business sectors, such as payments processing, where WorldPay is a client, and logistics-transportation, where it represents Americold.
In one marquee practice, health care, headed by Hedy Rubinger, long-term care companies and health care real estate are two specialty areas. In another, real estate, industry specialties include affordable and multifamily housing. A retail team handles real estate transactions, development, leasing, franchising and dispute resolution, along with corporate matters, for clients including Costco, Smashburger and Carter’s.
The firm started the Washington office with a team of privacy lawyers, led by Robert Belair, who serve key areas such as payments processing, health care and food and drug regulation. “A lot of us had never heard of [the privacy practice] at the time—and now it’s very hot,” Eady said.
It Started With Sysco
Golden said the industry focus started early on with his client, Sysco—now the largest food distribution company in the world. Sysco was created from a merger of nine food distributors in different parts of the country. Golden handled its simultaneous incorporation and public offering. Since then he’s led the company through more than 100 acquisitions and serves on its board.
“It’s been over a 40-year relationship,” he said—even though Sysco is based in Houston and didn’t have any Atlanta operations when it incorporated. Golden said the firm landed the Fortune 500 giant because it represented the trade association for food distributors.
“We are very involved in trade associations. It helps us understand our clients’ business,” he said.
That’s important as companies expand their legal departments, keeping more work in-house and using multiple firms, Hendrix said. “You’ve got to up your game. You have to know the industry at least as well as [your clients] do.”
Representing trade associations has driven growth in some of the firm’s largest industry niches, such as long-term care providers. Hendrix said Arnall Golden represents eight of the top 10 long-term care providers in the country. Clients include Kindred Healthcare, Genesis HealthCare and Extendicare.
That started from representing a trade group, the Georgia Nursing Home Association. Arnall Golden is also outside general counsel for the National Association for the Support of Long Term Care and does projects for the American Health Care Association, he said.
“They are part of the ecosystem of an industry,” Hendrix said.
The firm’s corporate client base is still middle-market companies, Hendrix said. It serves as outside general counsel for many smaller clients, Golden added.
“The midsize companies in the industries in which we practice still need high-quality legal work at a reasonable price,” Eady said.
But the firm has the bench strength in key industry areas to compete nationally, he said, noting that there are about 25 lawyers on its retail team and its health care practice has more than 40 lawyers.
Eady, Hendrix and Golden did not rule out expanding by adding offices or larger groups of laterals.
“We’re more primed to do that now than at any point in our history,” Hendrix said, adding that it’s been five years since the firm opened its Washington office. “We’re comfortable with integrating offices now.”
Golden speculated—hypothetically, he said—that there might be smaller firms that “don’t want to be gobbled up by a giant firm,” and would prefer joining a midsize firm like Arnall Golden.
“They’d get a seat at the table with us,” Hendrix said.
Eady, 51, joined Arnall Golden in 1991, after earning a law degree from the University of Georgia. A native of Oxford, Georgia, he interviewed at several Atlanta firms. “I joined at a time when there were a lot less data points than today,” he said. “It was the firm where I liked the people I spoke to the most.”
“At its core, I think we’re a group of people that genuinely care about one another,” Eady said when asked to describe the firm’s culture. “There is a low jerk factor.”
He said the firm values collegiality and respect for individuals, which gives lawyers a lot of autonomy. “We’re not heavily managed. We encourage self-starters.”
Eady’s new managing partner role won’t be a major shift, he said, because he’s been involved in firm management for years. He joined the firm’s eight-member executive committee in 2008, when Hendrix became managing partner, and he’s served as financial partner. Hendrix and Golden are also on the executive committee.
Steven Kaye, Eady’s real estate practice co-chair, will continue leading that group.
When he’s not working, Eady said he spends time with his wife, Theresa, and four daughters, who are between 15 and 22 years old. When his children started school, he and his family moved back to Oxford, about 40 miles east of Atlanta, where he is a fifth-generation resident.
Along with attending their sports events and going camping, Eady said he’s proofread almost all the papers his daughters have written over their years in school—and still does.
As chairman, Hendrix said he will concentrate on big-picture strategy instead of day-to-day management, such as growing the firm through new industry initiatives. In his law practice, he is a litigator and arbitrator with a health care focus.
As for Golden, “I’ll keep doing what I’m doing,” he said. He continues to represent longtime clients like Sysco and said he serves as a “goodwill ambassador for the firm.”
Like Eady and Hendrix, he has worked at Arnall Golden his whole career. Together the three have practiced there for more than 100 years.
Golden, 78, said he’s not interested in retirement. “I don’t play golf, I only fish occasionally and I like what I’m doing,” he said, noting that the firm has no mandatory retirement age. “I’m the oldest example of that.”