SNR Denton will abolish the joint chief executive position within three years of the anticipated merger between Denton Wilde Sapte and Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, with Dentons CEO Howard Morris indicating that he could step aside.
The two firms, whose partners will vote on the union on 9 June (26 May 2010), have proposed that Morris and Sonnenschein chairman Elliott Portnoy will operate as co-CEOs for a three-year transition period. After that point the expectation is that the new firm would be run by just one person.
Morris said: “In a transition it makes sense to have co-CEOs, but that’s the limit to our assurance of duplication. It’d be daft to say there should always be two CEOs. We anticipate there’ll be a single CEO.”
Asked whether he would run against Portnoy for the top job at the end of the transition period, Morris said: “In a more complex structure…our problem won’t be what to do with good quality senior management talent.”
He added: “I wasn’t planning to stay on once my own term expires in February 2011, I was asked to stay on [to carry this through] by the board and Elliott Portnoy.”
Portnoy was unavailable for comment when contacted by The Lawyer.
The merged firm would have a turnover in the region of $750m (£500m) and 1,400 lawyers. The goal is for those figures to rise to $1bn and between 1,500 and 1,600 within three years, according to Dentons chairman Martin Kitchen.
Under the proposal Kitchen would operate as co-chair alongside Sonnenschein business and regulation chair Joe Andrew. After the interim period a single chair is also likely.
A Dentons spokesperson said: “At the end of the transition period of three years, it’s anticipated there’ll be a single CEO but this will be confirmed at a later date. It’s likely there’ll be a single chairman but this isn’t set in stone as it’s a long way off.”
Other firms that have been formed from transatlantic mergers have also adopted a degree of dual management representation from the UK and US arms of their businesses.
Hogan Lovells instated former Hogan & Hartson chairman Warren Gorrell and Lovells managing partner David Harris as joint CEOs, while legacy Hogan partner Claudette Christian and Lovells senior partner John Young are co-chairs.
DLA Piper has joint CEOs in the shape of Nigel Knowles and Lee Miller although Frank Burch serves as the firm’s only chair.