Presidents Column

Presidents Column

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As I end my term, especially during this 20th anniversary year, it's appropriate to recall the events of our founding and milestones along the way to becoming the world's preeminent bankruptcy organization. I called upon Harry D. Dixon Jr., one of the ABI founders, who provided his insights in preparing this column.

ABI: The First Twenty Years

(1982-1987) In February 1982, Harry incorporated under Nebraska law a new organization to be called the American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI). He believed that it would become the premier bankruptcy organization in the United States and provide impartial testimony and assistance to Congress. Harry became the chairman and CEO; he would serve in that capacity for the next 15 years.

In January 1983, Harry, Robert E. Feidler and Sen. Dennis DeConcini organized an event to discuss the problem of the Marathon decision. Bankruptcy practitioners and judges attended the event at the invitation of Sen. DeConcini. Televised by C-Span, it was a great success and brought ABI to the attention of Congress and the bankruptcy bar.

In November 1983, ABI sponsored its first formal CLE program, a discussion of the interaction between chapter 11 and labor agreements. A newsletter, edited by Robin E. Phelan and aided by a column on recent cases by Deborah D. Williamson, continued to grow. The first President, Ed Creel, appointed five standing committees. On June 5-6, 1986, ABI held its first annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

(1987-1992) Richard A. Gitlin, who had been active in the ABA Business Bankruptcy Committee, became president in 1987. As president, Dick redesigned the committee system for ABI. It was a great success and allowed many more members to participate.

In 1990, Judge William L. Norton became president. His term was noted for the emergence of educational programs, many organized by Robert M. Fishman. During Judge Norton's term, the Endowment Fund was created with Harry, Bill and Ed Creel each contributing $25,000 to get the fund off the ground. The fund to this day is instrumental in providing funds for research grants and other projects.

About this same time, Harry developed two other ideas under the ABI banner: the American College of Bankruptcy and the Bankruptcy Board of Certification. Dick Gitlin was the first chairman of the College, with Harry as president. Keith J. Shapiro, who was the first chairman of the Bankruptcy Board of Certification, and Prof. G. Ray Warner were indispensable in making the certification program a success.

(1992-1997) Bob Feidler became president in 1992. Bob, who was the legislative counsel of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, helped ABI obtain the bankruptcy filing statistics that put ABI on the map with the news media. The ABI Law Review and Moot Court competitions were created, thanks in large part to the efforts of Prof. Robert M. Zinman. During this time, Deborah Williamson succeeded Charles M. Tatelbaum in the responsibility for the newsletter, now expanded and renamed the ABI Journal. With Bob Fishman as Vice President for Education, and with help from Keith Shapiro, Judge James A. Goodman, Paul B. Geilich and others, the educational programs grew in prominence, drawing large numbers of registrants to hear well-known panelists from around the country.

Robin Phelan followed Bob Feidler as president. He encouraged the further development of the committee system and, with his distinctive style and "hats," participated frequently as a speaker. Bob Zinman became president in 1996, bringing his scholarly demeanor, credentials and presence to the office. In 1996, Harry proposed bylaw revisions that would limit the president's term to one year with enhanced responsibilities and would make the office of chairman a more traditional executive policy role. Harry resigned as president of the College in May 1996 and as chairman of ABI in June.

(1997-Present) During the last five years, ABI has continued to grow and expand under the presidencies of Bob Fishman, Deborah Williamson, Ford Elsaesser and Keith Shapiro, each of whom brought great energy and distinctive talents to the position. ABI expanded its publications and research activities. Membership passed the 8,000 mark. Truly, Harry's 1982 vision has been surpassed.

I appreciate the opportunity to serve as president of ABI and want to particularly thank my mentors: Judge Ralph H. Kelley, Deborah Williamson, Ford Elsaesser, Bob Fishman and, last but not least, ABI Executive Director Sam Gerdano. Thanks to all of you and thank you, ABI.

Journal Date: 
Wednesday, May 1, 2002