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The chairman of the venerable law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, H. Rodgin Cohen is a leading expert on banking law.


The son of a West Virginia pharmacist, Cohen attended Harvard Law before joining the white-shoe law firm Sullivan & Cromwell in 1970, earning partnership status seven years later. During the '70s and '80s, Cohen made a name for himself thanks to his efforts to change the laws that prohibited banks from expanding to other states; his discovery of a legal loophole eventually cleared the way for banks to establish nationwide footprints. He went on to play a role in some of the biggest banking deals of the '80s and '90s, including Mellon Bank's acquisition of Dreyfus, Chemical Bank's 1996 merger with Chase, Northwest's acquisition of Wells Fargo, and Chase's $59 billion acquisition of Bank One, often facing off against WLRK's Edward Herlihy. (Fortune once reported that the two went head-to-head in 18 of the 25 major bank mergers during the '90s.) Cohen was tapped for the chairman job at Sullivan & Cromwell in 2000, replacing Ricardo Mestres. He'll remain chairman until 2009 when he turns 65, at which point he'll turn over leadership of the firm to Joseph Shenker.

Of note

Cohen's deal list is a long one. Just a few of the banking mergers the dean of the banking mergers and acquisitions has worked on: Wachovia-SouthTrust, First Union-Wachovia, Wells Fargo-Norwest, Goldman Sachs-Sumitomo, Allianz-Dresdner, UBS-PaineWebber, Credit Suisse-DLJ, Société Générale-Paribas, Mitsubishi-Bank of Tokyo, and Credit Suisse-First Boston. Since taking over as chairman, the unassuming Cohen has been active expanding the firm's activities overseas, particularly in Asia: S&C advised Ken Chenault and American Express on its purchase of a stake in the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and was retained by John Thain and the NYSE in connection with its purchase of the Paris-based Euronext. More recently, Cohen was retained by the board of Bear Stearns following its collapse and sale to J.P. Morgan.

In addition to negotiating big banking deals, in recent years Cohen has been active pressing for legislative reform. In the '90s, for example, he was instrumental in rewriting banking laws so retail banks can own securities firms—which is why you can now have your checking account at Citibank along with your credit card and stock portfolio. He's also done some notable public sector work. In 1980, he was involved in negotiations to release American hostages from Iran. The hostages were freed after a number of lawyers, including Cohen, worked with a handful of banks to release billions previously frozen in accounts owned by the Iranian government.


The "H" stands for "Henry," but he's known as "Rodge" to friends.

On the job

Cohen oversees more than 600 lawyers at S&C's 12 offices and it remains the gold standard when it comes to M&A; some of the all-star attorneys with whom Cohen works closely include Ben Stapleton, David Harms, Bob Giuffra, John Bostelman, Vince DiBlasi, Karen Patton Seymour, and M&A group head Jim Morphy. But Cohen has had challenges to deal with as well. A recent American Lawyer survey ranked the firm 155 out of 160 in associate satisfaction, and in early 2007, the Wall Street Journal got a copy of a PowerPoint presentation which revealed that almost a third of the firm's associates left in 2005. (The firm has since tried to address the morale issue by asking partners to say "thank you" and "good work" more often.) S&C received yet another dose of bad PR in 2007 when former associate Aaron Charney sued the firm, claiming he was dismissed on account of his sexual orientation.

Board game

Cohen is a trustee of the Economic Club of New York and New York Presbyterian Hospital, along with financial heavy hitters like Michel David-Weill, Richard Fuld, Glenn Hutchins, Sandy Weill, and John Mack.


A devoted fan of '50s rock and roll, Rodge lives with his wife, Barbara, a former newspaper reporter, in Tarrytown. They have a son and a daughter.