As Ed Thornton notes in Legal Week, the appointment of UBS GC Peter Kurer as chairman has again stirred the debate as to whether this is a trend, or a good idea.
Given the small sample size represented by these appointments, those who point to the experience of Charles Prince at Citigroup aren’t gaining much by the comparison. Interestingly, these same commentators often fail to note the legal background of Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who seems to be doing quite well, thank you.
The amount of criticism has forced Mr. Kurer to respond (as reported in the Times Online) even framing some shareholder attacks as â€œdiscriminatoryâ€ against lawyers:
â€œPeople should judge me on actions and not concepts,â€ he said, denying that his lack of management experience was an impediment to running an organisation of 85,000 people.
Certain London law firm lawyers have also rallied to Mr. Kurer’s defense.
Many companies that turn to a CEO or chairman with a legal background may be highly regulated (Duke Power) depend upon IP and also regulated (Pfizer), or are in some kind of market challenge/turnaround situation (Home Depot/UBS). Some may be successful, some not so much.
Just as a legal background surely isn’t a guarantee of a CEO or board chair slot, it shouldn’t be a road block, either.
Consider also that rarely was the predecessor CEO/chairman in these situations a lawyer. But for some reason perpetuating non-lawyer leadership as a status quo is considered prudent.
Lawyers of the corporate world unite!