NEW YORK (Reuters) - Corinne Ball, the charismatic and hard-charging lead bankruptcy attorney for Chrysler, is likely finding every one of her negotiating skills pushed to its limit this week.
As the U.S. automaker wobbles on the verge of bankruptcy, Ball and her team of Jones Day attorneys are rushing to facilitate compromises between bondholders, the U.S. government and Italian car maker Fiat SpA before the April 30 deadline set by the U.S. government.
“There’s a lot going on here that you don’t have in a normal bankruptcy case -- political considerations, labor unions concerned about precedent, virtually every community in the country impacted by a meltdown,” said Albert Togut of Togut, Segal & Segal. “She’s dealing with the world.”
There are few people who could manage the competing interests of such a massive and complicated case, bankruptcy experts said, adding that handling the possible collapse of a U.S. automaker demands a rare mix of sharp intelligence and social acumen.
“It requires a certain charisma,” said Robert Profusek, head of Jones Day mergers and acquisitions practice. “When everyone is jockeying to have their point of view expressed, who do people stop and listen to? She’s a very charismatic personality.”
Ball declined to comment.
Ball, 55, has worked on immensely complicated bankruptcies before, including the Chrysler workout in the 1980s and heading the bankruptcy of investment firm Drexel Burnham Lambert. More recently, she led a team of more than 100 Jones Day attorneys to restructure Dana Corp, which emerged from bankruptcy in 2008.
“Corinne is one of those sort of alarmingly creative and aggressive thinkers who can bring imagination and personality to bankruptcy law,” said Todd Snyder, a managing director in the restructuring group at investment bank Rothschild Inc.
Those who have worked with Ball over the course of her 30-year career in corporate restructuring and finance cite her discipline and “wicked” intelligence.
“She’s aggressive, she moves quickly -- at 120 miles per hour,” said Michael Cook, head of the business reorganization group for Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP, who encountered Ball’s hard charging style in 2002 when she represented bankrupt Williams Communications Group and he represented Leucadia National Corp, which acquired 44 percent of the telecommunications company.
“There’s a big premium on getting things done and she does not suffer fools. You’re not going to a white-glove tea party with Corinne. She knows how to get the job done.”
Chrysler, privately controlled by Cerberus Capital Management, is rushing to complete a proposed alliance with Fiat and qualify for additional government loans by Thursday.
While the U.S. Treasury Department has reached an agreement with Chrysler’s largest creditors to cancel $6.9 billion of debt in exchange for $2 billion in cash, other bondholders are holding out for better terms and bankruptcy still looms as a strong possibility.
Ball’s team is in the thick of the action.
“They’re going 24-hour days now, I‘m pretty sure,” said Henry Miller, managing director and chairman of investment and restructuring firm Miller Buckfire, who worked alongside Ball when she represented auto parts maker Dana Corp in its 2006 bankruptcy filing.
“She is strong like bull. This is where her intelligence and knowledge of both law and business deals really work to her advantage.”
Industry watchers said Ball is challenged with balancing the needs of an industry that needs to restructure, along with the pressure of U.S. government involvement, plus the legal rights expected by parties including private equity sponsor Cerberus, the United Auto Workers labor group, Chrysler creditors, Fiat and company management.
Ball, who began her career at Weil, Gotshal & Manges is now co-head of Jones Day’s New York restructuring and reorganization practice. She honed her knowledge of the auto industry when she worked with General Motors Corp in its acquisition of Daewoo and advised private equity firms Blackstone and Centerbridge on some automotive acquisitions.
Ball, who joined Jones Day in 2001, represented Dana Corp during its bankruptcy and in 2008, she earned the Turnaround Management Association’s “Deal of the Year” honor for her work on Dana.
“She knows as much about the auto industry as any professional outside the companies themselves and that’s really important in terms of dealing with management,” said Profusek.
Ball graduated earned a law degree with honors from George Washington University in 1978 and has four children between the ages of 17 and 24.
“There’s nothing they can’t throw at her that she can’t handle,” said Togut, who said he has known Ball for most of her career and worked with her when she led the restructuring of property development firm Olympia & York for Weil in the early 1990s.
“It was a monstrously large and complicated case and she took it over and did a flawless job,” he said. “The people in control were the Reichmanns -- Orthodox Jews who don’t shake hands with women and she was their lawyer. She was so effective with them and so effective with everybody.”
Reporting by Chelsea Emery, with additional reporting by Emily Chasan; Editing by Andre Grenon