For the first time in its 40-plus year history, Katten, Muchin, Rosenman LLP’s top leadership will not be based in the firm’s flagship Chicago office.
Roger P. Furey will take over as Katten’s chairman June 1, replacing Vincent A.F. Sergi after 21 years. Furey will remain at Katten’s Washington, D.C., office, where he’s been its managing partner for more than 10 years.
CEO Noah Heller and Furey will together run the firm, which has more than 600 attorneys in 13 offices, including ones in Shanghai and London. Heller operates from the New York City office.
Furey promised that there won’t be a cultural change within the firm despite the location of its leadership, adding that he already has a working relationship with the attorneys and staff in the Chicago office and plans to spend two days each week in the city.
“I view Chicago as the heart and soul of this firm and where some of our strongest practicing people are, so I don’t intend to make this a Washington firm or anything other than what it is — an international firm with Chicago as its headquarters,” Furey said.
After about 17 years as Katten’s sole national managing partner, Sergi in 2012 started thinking about changing the leadership structure of the firm as it continued to grow. The top leadership roles were split into two positions: a CEO and a chairman.
“The job had become too big for one person, so we thought four hands instead of two would be good,” Sergi said. “We’re a firm with two leaders in equal positions.”
In 2013, Heller was named CEO, overseeing Katten’s day-to-day operations; as chairman, Sergi remained responsible for strategy, business development and client engagement, among other things.
Sergi said the two-tiered leadership has been very effective over the past three years, adding that Furey and Heller’s previous working relationship should make for an effective joint leadership.
“It’s so much better than having one person. You can work on different things and bounce ideas off each other,” he said. “But there’s a lot of crossover on the things that (the two leaders) do together.”
Following the transition, Sergi will become chairman emeritus, serving as adviser to the CEO and chairman. He will also take charge in growing certain Katten offices, including New York, California and Houston.
“Focusing on just those things will allow me to accomplish an awful lot, and I can leave the rest up to Roger and Noah,” he said.
Sergi, who was one of the firm’s original associates when it opened in 1974, said it’s difficult to pick one thing he’s proud of in his 21 years of leading Katten. But he noted that he’s proud of the firm’s steady growth of revenue per lawyer, growth in key markets in the United States and abroad and representation of nearly half of Fortune 100 companies, including Chevron Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co.
“I’m happy to be at the point where we can handle any clients’ transaction or lawsuit,” he said. “We’ve got the experts and sophistication to handle anything, and yet we haven’t overexpanded. We don’t need to have 2,500 lawyers, and we’re still poised for terrific growth in our core practice areas.”
Sergi said Katten maintains a culture of turnover in leadership roles, including mandatory rotation of the firm’s executive and national compensation committees. As he approaches his 70th birthday in June, Sergi knew it was time for him to apply that culture to himself.
“It’s important to get new people and ideas in at all times,” he said. “I ran (Katten) for a long time and I think it’s time for other people to push the firm to the next level.”
Furey said his decade-plus of balancing his own practice with management of the Washington office has positioned him well for the added responsibilities of the chairman position. He plans to maintain his roster of clients — some of whom he’s had for 20 years.
One of his primary goals as chairman will be to spread the word about Katten’s services past that current roster, he said.
“Katten is not as well-known outside of Chicago as other firms are,” he said. “We’ve never spent a lot of money on flashy ads or branding efforts. We are very proud of our reputation, but that reputation is mostly among our own clients. I want the general public to know that we provide creative and proactive business solutions.”
Furey said he is overseeing the creation of client and industry teams designed to allow Katten to be better prepared in the ever-evolving legal industry.
“For me, it’s always about the client; it’s been that way for the past 30 years and it will continue to be that way in how I lead the firm,” he said. “All the other (management) bells and whistles are necessary hygiene, but we can’t lose sight of the client focus that has us all here.”