Ten Current CEO-Lawyers

Bitter Staff Columns, Lawyer 19 Comments

You’ve heard the stereotype before—lawyers have no business in business. They are too risk-adverse to make bold decisions, too cultured in the ways of the billable hour to move efficiently, and too numbers-phobic to understand the bottom-line. In short, lawyers don’t make good CEOs and have no shot at ever making F.U. money. 

But the truth is that lawyers do run some of the world’s biggest companies, Spencer Stuart, an executive search firm, told Bitter Lawyer that about seven percent of CEOs at large, publicly traded companies (S&P 500) have a legal background and worked in law.  Of all S&P 500 CEOs in 2008, 67% have earned some type of advanced degree, and of that percentage, 35% are JDs.

While you might not know all the names on this list, you’ll certainly know the companies whose boards were smart enough to count a JD as an asset rather than a liability when naming a CEO.

1.  The Burger King of Cool

Name: John Chidsey

Age: 46

Company: Burger King Corporation [NYSE:BKC]

2009 Fortune Ranking: 790

Law School: Emory University

Total Compensation: $5,370,781 [Forbes]

What He’s Done Lately: “While competitors like McDonald’s blanketed the market with dollar deals this spring, Burger King stuck with ads that wooed its male ‘superfans’—and alienated thousands of parents. And sales in April alone show the results: a 7 percent rise for McDonald’s as Burger King revenues remained weak in many markets after a dramatic fall in March. ‘That caught us a bit off guard,’ admits Chidsey.” [BusinessWeek]


2.  The Delinquency Stabilizer

Name: Kenneth Chenault

Age: 57

Company: American Express Company [NYSE:AXP]

2009 Fortune Ranking: 74

Law School: Harvard Law School

Total Compensation: $42,800,000 [CNN Money]

What He’s Done Lately: “In a year that has shaken faith in the business model of financial conglomerates such as Citigroup, Kenneth Chenault, chief executive of American Express, could be forgiven for feeling a little vindicated. The credit card company used to look a lot more like Citigroup than it does today. In the 1980s it was a financial supermarket, owning Lehman Brothers as well as retail brokerage and asset management divisions. Yet American Express shed its non-core operations in the early 1990s to become a “more focused company,” Mr. Chenault told the Financial Times. This, he suggests, helped it avoid the recent trouble that blighted its peers.” [Financial Times]


3.  The Stick-Around

Name: John Chambers

Age: 59

Company: Cisco Systems, Inc. [NASDAQ:CSCO]

2009 Fortune Ranking: 57

Law School: West Virginia

Total Compensation: $18,767,149 [Equilar]

What He’s Done Lately: “Chambers is betting big that Cisco can capitalize on such opportunities. While many companies retrench, the tech giant has strong profits and $33 billion in cash in its coffers. More important, in Chambers’ eyes, is Cisco’s position as the dominant provider of the networking gear that runs the Internet. Just as the tech world revolved around IBM (IBM)’s mainframe computers in the 1970s and Microsoft (MSFT)-powered personal computers in the 1980s and ‘90s, Chambers believes Cisco has an opportunity now to make its digital networks the platform on which new innovations are built. ‘There’s an inflection point happening,’ he says. ‘Cisco and the network are at the center of it.’” [BusinessWeek]


4. The Gut Renovator

Name: Frank Blake

Age: 60

Company: The Home Depot, Inc. [NYSE:HD]

2009 Fortune Ranking: 25

Law School: Columbia

Total Compensation: $8,584,167 [Fox Business]
What He’s Done Lately: “After three years, the ghost of Robert Nardelli still looms large at The Home Depot Inc. At Thursday’s annual meeting, shareholders never actually mentioned Nardelli by name. Yet he was referred to by shareholders a half dozen times, mostly as a benchmark of what went wrong during his five years as CEO—and how the company has improved under the leadership of current CEO Frank Blake.” [The Atlanta Business Chronicle]


5.  The Crisis Non-Waster

Name: C. Robert Henrikson

Age: 61

Company: MetLife, Inc. [NYSE:MET]

2009 Fortune Ranking: 39

Law School: Emory University

Total Compensation: $8,030,000 [Forbes]

What He’s Done Lately: “MetLife Inc. Chief Executive Officer Robert Henrikson promised not to ‘waste a crisis’ as the biggest U.S. life insurer seeks to win business from hobbled rivals and expand in markets including Japan. ‘This is a time to extend our lead,’ Henrikson told investors today at a Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. conference in New York. Henrikson said his ‘biggest concern’ was not taking advantage of opportunities.” [Bloomberg]


6.  The Bachelor

Name: Sumner Redstone

Age: 86

Company: National Amusements, Inc. (Viacom and CBS Corporation parent)

2009 Fortune Ranking: Viacom = 177, CBS = 186

Law School: Harvard Law

Total Compensation: $12,085,167 [Forbes]

What He’s Done Lately:  “…Sumner Redstone’s latest buffoonish public performance—during an interview with famed softball questioner Larry King at the Milken Institute Global Conference—you’d have to wonder how much longer Viacom insiders can put off a stockholders’ revolt. I know that if I’d been a stockholder on hand, watching Redstone once again embarrass himself, I’d be putting in a sell call as fast as I could.” [Los Angeles Times]


7.  The Cellphone Pragmatist

Name: Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo

Age: 55

Company: Nokia [NYSE:NOK]

2009 Fortune Ranking: 42 (Most Admired Company)

Law School: University of Helsinki (Master of Legal Letters degree)

Total Compensation: €3,927,127 [Reuters]

What He’s Done Lately: “Nokia’s CEO showed off a device on Wednesday that looked every bit as sexy as something from Apple, Palm, or Research In Motion. The N97 has a large touch screen, built-in cameras, a text-to-speech reader, FM transmitter, 32GB of built-in memory, mapping, and all other kinds of bells and whistles. The biggest problem, at least for people in the U.S., is that like many Nokia phones, the N97 will only be sold here separate from phone service. That means it is sold unsubsidized, in this case with a $699 sticker price. However, CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo told the D: All Things Digital crowd that his company is in talks with U.S. carriers in hopes of being able to offer the phone at a lower price.” [CNET]


8.  The Big Piano Saver

Name: Gerald L. (Jerry) Storch

Age: 52

Company: Toys “R” Us, Inc.

2009 Fortune Ranking: 192

Law School: Harvard Law

Total Compensation: Unknown

What He’s Done Lately: “Toys “R” Us announced early Thursday that it had bought F. A. O. Schwarz, one of the oldest toy retailers in the nation and a staple on Fifth Avenue, where the flagship store is guarded by rosy-cheeked toy soldiers. ‘At its core this is about one of the world’s greatest brands,’ Gerald L. Storch, chairman and chief executive of Toys “R” Us, said in an interview on Wednesday after the deal was completed. ‘It’s a store that’s steeped in tradition as well as popular culture.’ Mr. Storch declined to say how much Toys “R” Us, the ubiquitous toy and baby supplies store, paid for F. A. O. Schwarz, a privately owned company he had wanted to acquire for several years.” [The New York Times]


9.  The Free-Love Pill Provider

Name: Jeffrey Kindler

Age: 53

Company: Pfizer, Inc. [NYSE:PFE]

2009 Fortune Ranking: 46

Law School: Harvard Law School

Total Compensation: $14,788,302 [Equilar]

What He’s Done Lately: “Pfizer Chairman and CEO Jeff Kindler last year repeatedly said big deals in big pharma don’t work. But, he added, he’d never say never. And sure enough, this year Kindler’s buying Wyeth.” [CNBC]


10. The Woman to Watch

Name: Angela F. Braly

Age: 47

Company: WellPoint, Inc. [NYSE:WLP]

2009 Fortune Ranking: 32

Law School: Southern Methodist University

Total Compensation: $8,700,000 [Yahoo! Finance]
What She’s Done Lately: Aside from Braly currently being one of 3 women to run a Fortune 50 company—and one of only 15 to run a company in the Fortune 500—she’s also the fourth most-powerful woman in the world.  As for WellPoint?  Well, “WellPoint agreed to sell its pharmacy benefits management business for $4.68 billion to Express Scripts, which will gain 25 million WellPoint members.” [Fortune]

Check out other lists, tallies and scores to settle in Bitter by Numbers.

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  • Guano Dubango

    This is great news.  We can be both lawyers and make big buckaroos legally.  It beats sending out spam emails looking for CFOs to advance good faith money in order to release vast amounts of funds to them from Nigeria.

  • Frustrated JD

    Great piece.  Gives me hope there’s life after the law.

  • BL1Y

    Frustrated: It doesn’t matter that some lawyers have made it big as CEOs, but rather whether a law degree improves your chance as compared to another degree, such as an MBA.  These 10 are merely proof of concept.  With your statistical analysis skills, you should probably stay away from making any important business decisions.

  • Anon

    Once again bl1y, you saved the day.  Thank God you’re around.  Really.  You’re so damn smart and witty.  Without your relentless insight, we’d all be lost.

  • A Man Who Knows

    @ BL1Y,
    Where did “frustrated” offer any statistical analysis? All “frustrated” said was that it gave him hope.
    Kind of assuming facts that aren’t in evidence, counselor.

  • @8:54


  • babylaw

    Kool piece. pretty good life after law jobs.

  • BL1Y

    Man Who Knows: Having hope goes towards showing his belief in the likelihood of an event.

  • A Man Who Knows

    Yeah, but you claimed his statistical analysis was suspect. No such analysis was present. Day after day, you make these wild assumptions on this site. I just hope that’s not how you practice.

  • BL1Y

    Placing significance on statistically insignificant data is a statistical analysis.

  • A Man Who Knows

    No it’s not. Failure to perform statistical analysis is not the same as bad statistical analysis. Your logic beyond tortured. Face it, some days you have it. But not today. Try again tomorrow, BL1Y.

  • @1043

    that’s the dumbest thing i’ve ever read.

  • BL1Y

    I think his comment could be considered the product of very very basic (and bad) inferential statistics.

  • Lawstudent

    this gives me some hope!

  • Stat Nazi

    Slowly pulling back from your original point, BL1Y.

  • Piebe

    Mr BL1Y Did you just purchase a book of famous quotes?  You are so in sightful with your comments and maybe I should purchase a dictionary.  We all can’t be chiefs the world needs some indians.

  • embeeyay

    BL1Y, you are the only JD I would ever consider appointing as a CEO.
    The days when a JD signalled of an intelligent generalist are over.  You absolutey must be a quant to be in business today. I work in advertising and use more of the skills I picked up in finance and statistics than the old guys even know exist.  We just hired a kid with an engineering degree over a kid who majored in advertisng.
    When I was getting my Masters, I sat in on a Contracts course at the law school. I found myself often correcting the professor on basic accounting principles (as well as subtraction).  I had also planned to audit a course on securities law, but after that experience, I realized that law schools probably have nothing in terms of business skills.
    I will say that lawyers are superior writers, when they’re not writing in legalese and a few have an aptitude for IT.  Other than that, I’ve see no reason to pay a JD to do anything other than lawyerin’.  Law school prospects must accept that reality.

  • embeeyay

    Oh, and finally… you’ll notice that most of these people went to Harvard.  It’s all about the network.

  • deferred

    No longer CEO, but was for a long time – RIchard Parsons, CEO of TIme Warner Cable.
    And an Albany law school grad.