Harvey Miller may be the best bankruptcy practitioner of the last 50 years.  He died this week and the world is a lesser place without him.

Miller was the all-star bankruptcy attorney in many of the most important bankruptcies and workouts during our lifetimes.  And although I do not work in corporate bankruptcy, he had a critical impact on my career path for which I will be eternally grateful.

Miller’s case list reads like a Bankruptcy Down Jones Index:  Continental and American Airlines, Texaco, Macy’s, Drexel Burnham, General Motors, and — the largest case in history — Lehman Brothers.  And he was at the heart of negotiating New York’s way off the ledge of bankruptcy.

He was a long-time member of the Weil Gotshal firm.  He did take five years between 2002-2007 to work on Wall Street — a critic of the casino going to deal blackjack? — but he came back to Weil just in time for a finale worthy of Wagner, with General Motors and Lehman Brothers.

There are thorough obituaries of Miller out there now, particularly from his own partners and the New York Times.  But I want to add my own personal thoughts on this loss to the bankruptcy community.

In 1985, due to a failed deal with Pennzoil, Texaco got slapped hard by a Texas jury for $12 billion.  Over the next two-years, Texaco wriggled and twisted across the court system trying to avoid posting a $12 billion bond — required by Texas law — in order to appeal the decision.  Failing all such avenues, Texaco turned to Harvey Miller. He took them into Chapter 11, reorganized the firm and saved it from its own hubris.

Half-a-continent away, I was enrolling in law school and watching the Texaco case play out almost daily.  Miller’s strategic use of bankruptcy to salvage — and reinvigorate —  an otherwise financially-viable business rather than liquidating it was a revelation.  Here was the proverbial “new way to skin a cat” and I was hooked.  I’m sure the urbane (and no doubt sartorially resplendent) Miller could not expect to inspire a 23-year old in flyover country to devote his career to bankruptcy but, in his way, he did.

Thank you, Harvey.

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