Just over a year after Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott installed a pair of leaders to serve as co-CEOs, one of them has been ousted from the role.
Eckert Seamans announced late last month that Dorothy Davis would no longer serve as a co-CEO of the firm, leaving Tim Hudak as the sole CEO. The Pittsburgh-based regional firm said Hudak would take over management of day-to-day operations, but Davis would continue as a member of the executive committee, board of directors and compensation committee.
In an interview May 4, executive committee chairman John McGinley said the firm recently conducted a survey of its lawyers, who number more than 300, to get their thoughts on the two-CEO leadership model.
“Most of the lawyers here prefer a CEO model of one voice,” he said. “They thought the duality created ambiguity.”
Once that was determined, McGinley said, the firm took a look at both leaders’ skill sets, and decided that Hudak should be the one running the firm as CEO, and Davis could continue to focus on the firm’s branding and external relationships. He said both Davis and Hudak remain valued partners at the firm.
Hudak and Davis became co-CEOs last March, when former CEO Tim Ryan unexpectedly stepped down after leading Eckert Seamans for more than a decade.
Regarding Ryan’s abrupt departure from the CEO role, McGinley noted that Ryan had been in the position for 12 years. While some people would have liked for him to continue running the firm, others thought it was time for a change, McGinley said.
“You’re never more popular than the day you’re elected, and things accumulate over time,” McGinley said.
On the same day Ryan officially announced to the firm that he would be stepping down, the firm’s executive committee, which included Ryan, unanimously voted to install Davis and Hudak as his replacements.
Davis was the first woman at the firm to fill the CEO role. At the time, Hudak and Davis said they planned to implement a “collaborative management team,” but neither said they planned to step back from working with clients.
Sources say Davis as CEO made changes without communicating to others in the firm, including changes to practice group leadership that were not received well universally.
McGinley acknowledged that leadership made changes, particularly to the firm’s administrative structure. In a large firm, “you’re always going to have a certain number of people that don’t like the way a manager functions,” McGinley said.
Meanwhile, according to sources, Hudak took a decidedly hands-off approach to his leadership role, largely leaving the decision-making to Davis.
McGinley said he would not necessarily agree that Hudak took a backseat to Davis. However, he said, Davis was “more vocal,” so others in the firm may have perceived a leadership disparity in the co-CEO team.
Davis, Hudak and Ryan did not return calls seeking comment.
While many firms have both a chair and managing partner or CEO, and some firms have a management committee that shares the duties of a managing partner, few law firms have a pair of lawyers sharing the day-to-day firm management responsibilities.
Law firm consultant Jeff Coburn, speaking generally, said he would generally advise against sharing CEO or managing partner duties among two individuals.
“It could soon become duplicative, confusing, and possibly even competitive,” Coburn said. Coburn said he can recall one instance when it worked well—when Harry Trueheart and Nestor Nicholas served as co-managing partners of the newly merged Nixon Peabody in the late 1990s, each bringing representation from their legacy firms to the table.
Such arrangements only work, Coburn said, when the duties of each person are clearly spelled out. The same goes for dual leadership by a chair and managing partner, Coburn said, noting that is more common than co-CEOs or co-managing partners.