Banking Law, Cars, H. Rodgin Cohen, Mergers and Acquisitions, Money

Breaking: Rodge Cohen Drives a Subaru!

H Rodgin Cohen Henry Rodgin Cohen Rodge Cohen Sullivan Cromwell chairman.jpgThat’s the most shocking revelation in an interesting New York Times profile of H. Rodgin Cohen, the nation’s top banking M&A lawyer and chairman of the venerable Sullivan & Cromwell. From the NYT:

After [Cohen and his wife Barbara] had paid their [restaurant] check, they went to fetch the car, and Mr. Cohen, a Boston fan since his days at Harvard Law, glanced down at his BlackBerry to check on the Red Sox. He drives a Subaru, a humble ride for a man who earned millions last year arranging shotgun weddings for the busted firms of Wall Street, and standing next to Barbara in the darkness, Rodge Cohen, a titan of the banking bar, struggled with his automated key, initially unable to — woop woop woop — release the lock.

Unlocking car doors by remote control — where’s a good associate when you need one?

Now, in re Subarus, we have nothing against them; they are fine cars. Some of our best friends drive Subarus. One of our co-clerks — a member of the Elect, no less — drives a Subaru Forester. The judge for whom we clerked — Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain (9th Cir.), a top feeder judge — used to drive a purple Subaru (affectionately nicknamed “Grimace” by his clerks).

But as we know from the judicial pay controversy, federal judges don’t get compensated like partners at Sullivan & Cromwell. And Cohen is no ordinary S&C partner — he’s the chairman of the firm and its top rainmaker, generating tens of millions in business every year. A Subaru is shockingly downmarket for him. We realize that true wealth doesn’t have to advertise itself, and six-figure cars are for the nouveau riche, but this still seems a tad extreme.

More to the point, why is Rodge Cohen even driving himself? Wouldn’t it be more efficient for him to have a chauffeur-driven Maybach — john quinn, holla — so he can spend every waking minute on the phone, negotiating billion-dollar bank mergers? Isn’t it a waste of the brilliant Cohen’s brain cells to have him paying attention to yield signs when he could instead be thinking about yield curves?

More tidbits from the Rodge Cohen profile, along with commentary, after the jump.

The interview starts off with background about Cohen’s dealmaking prowess that won’t be news to regular ATL readers:

[Cohen is] the man who, aside from government officials like Henry M. Paulson Jr., Ben S. Bernanke and Timothy F. Geithner, played perhaps the largest role of all in the gruesome doings of the Wall Street bailout last year. All told, from March 2008, when Bear Stearns was purchased for a song by JPMorgan Chase (both Sullivan & Cromwell clients), to mid-September, when A.I.G. (another client) was handed several billion by the government, Mr. Cohen, 65, took part in a breathtaking 17 financial deals, often hurrying among negotiations like a surgeon running between O.R.’s.

“Every time I looked up, it seemed like Rodge was in the room,” said Mr. Paulson, the former Treasury secretary. It is a testament to Mr. Cohen that Mr. Paulson’s spokeswoman initially said he was no longer “doing interviews” (he is working on a book), then called back to say the secretary would make himself available, given the subject.

After noting that anti-finance populists might feel “an urge to discern two horns and a tail on Mr. Cohen,” given his tremendous influence in the banking world, writer Alan Feuer observes:

Still, it can be difficult to drum up rage against a man who is so mild, courtly and uncommonly unassuming. Indeed, in dozens of interviews with clients, competitors and government officials, it was difficult to scare up a critical word about him.

“He looks like Mr. Peepers,” said Robert K. Steel, a board member of Wells Fargo bank and a former top official at the Treasury Department. “He’s not a demonstrative person, not 6-4, dark and good looking. But you forget about the fact that he’s 5-2 and weighs 100 pounds wet. He’s a trusted adviser. When I worked in Washington, he would always give a balanced read of the pros and cons of a situation with a knowledge so expansive you’d have to go to five other places just to get his level of sophistication.”

This is consistent with what we’ve heard about Rodge Cohen from S&C colleagues, who report that he’s not just a phenomenal lawyer, but also friendly, down-to-earth, and a total gentleman. S&C has its fair share of tools — if the Douche Patrol were to raid 125 Broad Street, they would need several buses to transport the arrestees — but Cohen is not among them.

(And yes, he does look like Mr. Peepers! See here.)

The profile also discusses Rodge Cohen’s legendary work ethic — which we’ve heard about from S&C insiders, who tell tales of seeing Cohen working on weekends, wearing jeans, and padding about his office in socks. On weekdays, according to the Times, Cohen sets his alarm for the ungodly hour of 4:58 a.m., “so he has a two-minute grace period to check for faxes before the televised financial reports begin.”

The article contains the obligatory biographical data, including discussion of how his father, who ran drugstores in West Virginia, stood up against Jim Crow laws. Then it covers Cohen’s education:

After studying in the local public schools through junior high, Mr. Cohen was sent north to Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts. Then Harvard (class of 1965), followed by Harvard Law (1968). “I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a lawyer,” he said. “Law school was just the closest thing to continuing a liberal arts education.”

To those of you who went to law school “by default,” because you didn’t know what else to do with that useless liberal-arts degree, take heart — you might end up as the next Rodge Cohen!

In 1970, Mr. Cohen interviewed at Sullivan & Cromwell and, after he accepted a position — “I liked the intersection of contracts, the law and the regulatory overlay” — the couple moved to Tarrytown, N.Y., where they lived, moving only once (from an apartment to a house), until 1997. They had a son and a daughter — Mr. Cohen refused to discuss them at all — and eventually moved downriver to Irvington, to a comfortable though hardly opulent home at the end of a private drive, furnished tastefully with pastel walls and Japanese vases.

We suspect that the Cohens’ home, despite being described as “comfortable though hardly opulent,” costs a pretty penny. We couldn’t find the Cohens’ exact address on Zillow or Trulia — if you’re as powerful as Rodge Cohen, perhaps you can get your home removed from such services? — but two neighboring homes are valued at $2.6 million and $4.9 million.

Despite his vast wealth — he has been an S&C partner for over three decades, since 1977, so you do the math — Cohen still seems thrifty. Check out this cute anecdote:

[Cohen’s dog] stood on her hind legs pawing at his lap throughout an hourlong interview in Mr. Cohen’s living room last month. At one point, she jumped up onto the couch, prompting his wife to say: “No, Rodge, not up there. Not unless you want me to reupholster the sofa.”

Mr. Cohen removed the dog. “That would be expensive,” he said.

And so would topping Cravath’s bonus numbers. Does this mean S&C won’t up the ante? Surely they can afford to, given all the ginormous mergers their FIG (Financial Institutions Group) folks have worked on since September 2008. (We’re guessing most of these deals closed in 2009, meaning the fees got paid this year, too — ka-ching!)

The article touches upon the topic of Cohen’s being considered for a top spot at Treasury:

[C]onflicts, or perceived conflicts, apparently became insurmountable last spring, when Mr. Cohen was under consideration for the No. 2 spot at Treasury, then suddenly — and somewhat clumsily — withdrew his name. He refused to discuss the matter (the only subject he declined to entertain other than his children), but two former government officials suggested that his deep ties to Wall Street created an uncomfortable air at a time when, among other things, the scandal over bonuses at A.I.G. had just erupted.

This vague explanation leaves us a bit unsatisfied. If you have inside info on what really happened, feel free to email us. (Some speculation appears here, but it’s not very substantive.)

In any event, congratulations to H. Rodgin Cohen on his amazing legal career. To read the most engrossing NYT profile, which is much longer — we’ve just given you excerpts — click here.

P.S. Speaking of mysteries involving S&C partners, we are still curious about what happened to John O’Brien, a well-liked and highly successful M&A lawyer who left the firm earlier this year. If you know — considering how many months have passed since his departure, it’s pretty safe to talk about as a topic — please contact us. (Email is best, but if you prefer, you can call us — 212-334-1871, ext. 9 — and leave a voicemail.)

Trauma Surgeon of Wall Street [New York Times]

Earlier: Prior ATL coverage of H. Rodgin Cohen

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