SNR Denton to move to single CEO after three years

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.


Howard Morris
Howard Morris

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.