Joseph Flom, who died yesterday of heart failure at 87-years-old, worked almost up to the last moment at the law firm he built up into one of the world's largest and most powerful: Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
An aggressive, down-to-earth legal warrior, Flom helped the investment banking fraternity effect unfriendly takeovers in the race to grow by acquisition in the 1970s and 1980s. I admired his drive, his focus, his indomitable spirit and energy. In an article I wrote many years ago about Flom and his major rival, Martin Lipton of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, another firm that made its mark in the mergers and acquisition business, I asked an investment banker to rate Flom for killer instinct on a scale of 1 to 10. He got a 15, I believe. Lipton, I recall, was just a couple of notches below Flom. You needed to be tough in these often colorful takeover battles.
So feared was Flom in corporate America that he was able to sign retainers with dozens of companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 index, just so these blue chip concerns could make sure that Flom and Skadden Arps could never, ever represent some corporate raider or competitor in making a surprise hostile bid for control.
In this way, Flom added corporate clients who had for decades been represented by more establishment law firms like White & Case, Sullivan & Cromwell, Davis Polk Wardwell, and Cleary Gottlieb. Comes the revolution!
Flom could handle the toughest, most demanding clients, Morgan Stanley's Robert Greenhill, Revlon's Ronald Perelman and KKR's Henry Kravis. And that's a smallish sampling of the deal-makers he helped get the tough jobs done. I was never able to get him to tell me all the details of the epic battles he and Greenhill waged during the 1970s.
Joe was a doer, a man of high principle and amazing energy. He could be intimidating when in battle. I recall a Sunday evening many years ago, when I picked up the phone to hear him bark at me; "When did you become the flack for Marty Lipton. I want a correction tomorrow morning in your paper, or you'll never get to talk to me again."
He got it, and I talked to him again, the latest being on the sidewalk one cold Sunday only a few weeks ago, when I had the privilege of telling his wife the "killer instinct" story. I shall seriously miss his indomitable spirit.
Follow Robert Lenzner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/boblenzner