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December 7, 2010 6:06 PM

As One Lawyer-CEO Steps Down, Others Step Up

Posted by Brian Baxter

UPDATE: 12/9/10, 6:35 p.m. Bloomberg reports that former Pfizer CEO Jeffrey Kindler will receive $9.6 million as part of his severance package. As far as high-profile CEO exits go, the payout is relatively tame. Corporate Counsel, a sibling publication, has more on Kindler's departure and severance.

Pfizer CEO and former general counsel Jeffrey Kindler announced on Sunday that he would retire after four years as head of the pharmaceutical giant, as several media outlets, including our sibling publication Corporate Counsel, have reported.

As Kindler steps aside, other lawyers-turned-CEOs are moving up. Last week alone saw two new attorneys join the ranks of the corporate elite in Merck & Co.'s Kenneth Frazier and IAC/InterActive's Gregory Blatt. Like Kindler, both previously served as general counsel of their respective companies.

As noted by The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog, the two join a group that includes Home Depot's Frank Blake, Citigroup's Richard Parsons (the former managing partner of New York's Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler), and Michael Cherkasky of Altegrity, which bought the risk consulting firm founded by lawyer and former CEO Jules Kroll earlier this year.

We've uncovered a few others, including American Express's Kenneth Chenault, MetLife's C. Robert Henrikson, and John Chidsey of Burger King, which was taken private in a $4 billion deal in September. (Check out our analysis on the lawyers behind the annual Forbes 400 list for more top-ranking legal eagles that have moved to the business side.)

The aviation industry is one field with more than its share of lawyer-CEOs. Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson is a former general counsel of Northwest Airlines, which merged with Delta in April 2008. Former Vinson & Elkins partner Jeffery Smisek currently serves as the CEO of United Airlines, which merged with Continental Airlines in May.

This week, Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu, who took over the country's leading airline last year, said that cost-cutting measures are resulting in clearer skies for the company, according to The Montreal Gazette. Rovinescu served as managing partner of Stikeman Elliott, one of Canada's largest law firms, where he helped oversee the restructuring of Air Canada during bankruptcy proceedings earlier this decade.

Have we missed anyone else worth noting? Let us know by commenting below.

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Although he's not a newcomer to the CEO ranks, Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs graduated from Harvard Law School in 1978.

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