Presidents Column

Presidents Column

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The following column is an abridged and edited version of the acceptance speech given by ABI President Michael P. Richman at the ABI Annual Spring Meeting on April 17, 2004.

I am honored and privileged to be able to serve as president of the American Bankruptcy Institute for the next year.

Before stating some of my goals for this year, it is important that I recognize the people who have helped make ABIwhat it is today. First, I want to acknowledge the contribution of the 13 dedicated and talented people who precededme in this position: Bettina Whyte, Andy Caine, Richardo Kilpatrick, Keith Shapiro, Ford Elsaesser, Deborah Williamson, >Bob Fishman, Bob Zinman, Robin Phelan, Bob Feidler, Bill Norton, Dick Gitlin and Ed Creel. We are today the world's largest and most successful association of insolvency professionals because oftheir vision and contributions. In our leadership, they have created a culture of excellence. And I pledge to do mybest to meet that standard.

I especially thank Keith Shapiro and Gerry Buccino, who was an ABI director and our first VicePresident-Development at the inception of our Endowment Fund. About 10 years ago, outside a courtroom in St.Louis, Keith and Gerry first suggested to me, and inspired me to believe, that if I gave my time and energy to ABII might one day be among its leaders. Special thanks also to Bob Fishman and Ford Elsaesser for teaching me thatthe personal relationships and friendships that form out of our common cause are at least as important, if not moreso, than our professional collaborations. And thank you to Deborah Williamson, who tested me for this position bymaking me give an oral dissertation on my goals in a Las Vegas bar at 3:00 a.m. Bob, Ford and Deborah are, andwill remain, trusted advisors.

I also want to make special mention of the support I received from Tony Schnelling of Bridge Associates, recentlyelected to our Board of Directors. The financial support and creative ideas provided by Tony were significant factorsin the success of the fundraising efforts I managed for the Endowment Fund as Vice President-Development, priorto my election as president. I am also very grateful to my partners and colleagues at Mayer, Brown, Rowe & MawLLP, who have for many years supported my ABI activities.

My congratulations to Richardo Kilpatrick, who just completed his term as chairman of our Board, and therefore hisfour-year run on our Management Committee. Richardo has accomplished much, but what I remember most is theway he distinguished himself as our ABI president on Sept. 11, 2001, leading us, calmly, through the discussion ofmany issues that we then faced, about our priorities, about doing the right thing by our members.

I am especially proud to express the gratitude of the entire membership to Bettina Whyte for a most remarkableaccomplishment during her just-completed tenure as ABI President: her inspired role in the creation of the graduatebusiness school bankruptcy competition. To create such a competition from scratch takes more than a few phonecalls; to convince a major university to sponsor or host such a competition takes more than a few dollars.Persuading other major schools to participate, when this has never been done before, is astounding. This could nothave been accomplished without Bettina's sheer force of will and incredible generosity. As ABI's first non-lawyerpresident, she felt a special responsibility to create this competition, she pledged to do it and deliver it before theend of her term, and she has indeed done it. To honor Bettina's extraordinary effort, commitment and generosity,we are naming the symbol of the competition—a beautiful silver trophy that will be inscribed with the names ofeach winning team, and maintained and displayed by each winning school until the following year'scompetition—the Bettina M. Whyte Trophy.

I made a promise to seek greater recognition for our former presidents by honoring them permanently in the ABI Journal and on our web site. I am very pleased to report that this promise has already been fulfilled. If you look onthe back page of this ABI Journal, you will find a new "masthead," next to the regular listing of current officers anddirectors, identifying all our former presidents and their years of service. A similar listing will soon be a link on theABI web site.

We are at our highest-ever level of success and membership. We have passed the 10,000-member mark. We have theworld's greatest executive director in Sam Gerdano, and the most professional, and tireless, headquarters staff. Oureducational conferences are recognized nationally, and in some respects now internationally, as the very best. But wecannot stand still. I want to continue our excellence and continue to expand our membership.

I will do everything possible to support Sam Gerdano and the staff. I will also give special attention to Mitch Cohen and Neil Olack, our Vice Presidents of Membership and Education, respectively. I will attend and give mypersonal support to the chairs of our regional conferences and encourage continued excellence in those programs. Iwill also continue to support the efforts begun by Andy Caine, who this year becomes Chairman of our Board, toraise the level of our committee programs so that they provide content on a par with our national and regionalprograms, and call upon our committee chairs to continue those efforts. Our publications are without peer and havecome to be so respected in large part due to the good work of John Penn as Vice President-Publications. I am verypleased that John has been selected as President-elect. I know that John will work closely with our new PublicationsVice President, John Ames, to assure continued excellence in a smooth transition. I will also give strong supportto the efforts of our Research Grant Committee, under the direction of Judge Wes Steen, to create a major newbankruptcy law academic symposium in 2006, to equal or exceed the success they achieved with last year'ssymposium on the 25th anniversary of the Bankruptcy Code, and to continue to help the Endowment Fund obtaincontributions from the membership to support other fine programs.

I pledge to you that before the end of 2005 we will take ABI education across the Atlantic to London. It is time thatwe do this. We have already ventured successfully across at least part of the Pacific to Hawaii, and north of theborder to Canada. Former president Ford Elsaesser is working to bring a delegation here from Armenia. Formerdirector Josefina McEvoy brought a delegation of Mexican judges to our Winter Leadership Conference last year,and with Josefina's help, later this year we are crossing the Caribbean to do a program in Puerto Rico. DirectorGeorge Kelakos is exploring the feasibility of programs in Asia. In addition, thanks to the efforts of Andy Caine,we have strengthened our alliance with the International Women's Insolvency and Restructuring Confederation,whose members are keenly interested in cross-border collaboration.

So we have the interest, the demand and the resources. This is an opportunity to share our experience and gain newmembers from abroad. A number of countries are revising their bankruptcy laws to make them more like ours.Under the leadership of our Vice President-International Steve Golick, George Kelakos and Neil Olack, we willmake this happen.

Besides seeking to expand membership abroad, I want to be certain we hold on to those members we have. In thatregard, I am mindful that we face contraction in our business and am concerned about losing members who fall onfinancial hard times and find it difficult to pay our dues. Thus, I plan to ask our Executive Committee and Board toconsider the adoption of a financial hardship policy that will permit at least partial deferral of annual dues formembers who fall on hard times. The world's largest organization of bankruptcy professionals should have someform of its own debt relief in appropriate circumstances.

My most important goal for the year is to be your advocate. Our profession is in need of a national advocate rightnow. It seems to me that we have had to withstand more than our fair share of criticism from certain quarters of themedia and academia who do not seem to understand the history and purpose of bankruptcy and the importance tothis country of what we do. Some people think it is wrong, even corrupt, to allow a company to reorganize insteadof putting it to death. The public needs to be reminded that the creation of a national bankruptcy system isspecifically authorized in the U.S. Constitution.

At the constitutional convention, there was in fact little debate about the bankruptcy clause. It was on Sept. 3,1787, that a resolution was passed at the constitutional convention to add to Congress's enumerated powers thepower "to establish uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies." Gouverneur Morris called bankruptcy an"extensive and delicate subject," and there was only one vote against the resolution. It is fair to ask why thebankruptcy power was so non-controversial to the Founders. I believe the answer is that this was and remains anation of entrepreneurs. An overriding theme of the constitutional debates, championed by Benjamin Franklin, wasthat the Constitution not favor rich over poor, that political and economic opportunity be equal for all. Bankruptcyis a great equalizer. And today, nearly 217 years after the adoption of the bankruptcy power, our economic systemremains the most successful and copied system in the world. The Founders knew that you could not have a thrivingcapitalist economic system without uniform bankruptcy laws. If you want to encourage people to take risks, youhave to protect them when they fail.

So my principal mission for this year is to get the public to appreciate and understand that we are the medicalprofession of the American economy. We are not corrupt because we choose to resuscitate businesses rather thancondemn them to death. We diagnose the ills, we prescribe, we treat, we help businesses and persons to recovertheir economic health. I will tell whoever is willing to listen, through every medium, that this work that we do, wejudges, lawyers, financial advisors, bankers, accountants and so many others—all of whom come together in thisgreat ABI think tank—is good and noble work, and in this work we excel. Through our dedication and commitmentto excellence, our nation's economic system functions as no other, as the founders clearly intended.

New Staff Joins ABI

Katy Manning joined the ABI staff in April as a staff assistant and receptionist. She will also serve as CLECoordinator. A native of Delaware, Katy is a 2003 graduate of Catholic University of America, earning a B.A. inworld politics. After graduation, she worked as a field organizer in Iowa for the "Gephardt for President" campaign.She has also worked for MBNA in Wilmington, Del.

Journal Date: 
Tuesday, June 1, 2004