Richard G Mason
Office:
51 West 52nd Street
10019
City:
New York
State:
New York
Country:
USA
Tel:
+1 212 403 1252
Fax:
+1 212 403 2252

Questions and Answers:

Who's Who Legal Thought Leaders - Restructuring

Richard (Ricky) Mason is the chair of the restructuring and finance department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. A 30-year restructuring veteran, he has been involved in some of the world’s most complex cases. Ricky is a fellow in the American College of Bankruptcy, a conferee of the National Bankruptcy Conference and the volunteer president of the Boy Scouts of America’s Greater New York Councils.

WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO BECOME A RESTRUCTURING AND INSOLVENCY SPECIALIST?

I have an undergraduate degree in economics. Prior to law school, I was a student loan collector for a government agency, a manager of the collections department, a bank employee and an insurance claim representative, so insolvency law seemed like a natural fit. I understood financial issues and knew that I would enjoy the restructuring world’s intellectual challenges and mix of business and law. Plus, I took a mentor’s advice: “You should be a bankruptcy lawyer; other practices might come and go, but some poor soul will always lend money to someone when he shouldn’t.”

WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST MEMORABLE CASE YOU HAVE WORKED ON OVER THE COURSE OF YOUR CAREER SO FAR?

Two cases are tied in this category. First, I grew up in a sports-mad family. The Baltimore Orioles were my favourite baseball team. As a young bankruptcy lawyer, here was my dream come true: on behalf of the creditors of the Orioles’ principal owner, who was in bankruptcy (the team was not), we negotiated with potential bidders and Major League Baseball and auctioned the team in bankruptcy court. The team sold for over $200 million, a record price at the time but a pittance compared to today’s multibillion-dollar valuations. My firm focuses on distressed mergers and acquisitions; the Orioles sale gave me excellent experience in this area and brought me back to my childhood at the same time. Later, on behalf of bondholders, I worked for several years on the Delphi Automotive bankruptcy case. It was in the middle of the mid-2000s auto industry meltdown, with a challenging mix of labour and financial issues. But for me, the case and its effect on Delphi’s workers, thousands of whom lost their jobs, reinforced one critical point: for all of our discussions about business plans, cash flow statements, valuations, bankruptcy legal issues and the like, we must be mindful of the human consequences that can result from corporate failures.

HOW HAS THE US’S STRONG ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE IN RECENT YEARS IMPACTED YOUR PRACTICE?

The recent strong economy has led to a lower default rate and a slowdown in restructurings. But we have been fortunate to remain quite busy, for several reasons. Our group is relatively small compared to our excellent peers. Also, we handle the entire spectrum of finance issues, from healthy-company acquisition financings to Chapter 11s and beyond. So in good economic times, we might be somewhat more weighted to the healthy-company side; this is critical for the firm’s M&A practice, and it provides excellent training and experience for finance issues in restructurings. Our emphasis on finance also enables us to work on situations where the company is stressed but not necessarily an immediate candidate for Chapter 11. We have seen many of those matters recently. Lastly, in the bankruptcies themselves, we have been very active in troubled industries, such as retail, and in sovereign or quasi-sovereign restructurings such as Puerto Rico.

YOU HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN MAJOR RESTRUCTURING AND BANKRUPTCIES IN THE ENERGY INDUSTRY. TO WHAT EXTENT HAVE RECENT RISES IN COMMODITY PRICES IMPACTED RESTRUCTURING ACTIVITY IN THE SECTOR?

Restructurings in the energy field have slowed down substantially, which is unsurprising given the rise in commodity prices. One or two years ago, we were very active in all manner of oil and gas matters, in the onshore (shale) space as well as offshore. The level of restructuring activity is not at all the same today. But one thing we have all learned is that commodity prices can be quite volatile; some of the companies that emerged from bankruptcy with leverage will be exposed if prices drop again. And rising commodity prices can hurt other industries that depend significantly on commodity inputs in the manufacturing process. Lastly, even though gas prices are higher, they are still low enough, together with other factors, to challenge merchant power producers reliant on coal.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN CHALLENGES CURRENTLY FACING RESTRUCTURING LAWYERS AND THEIR CLIENTS?

The restructuring world has generally become more litigious over the past five or 10 years. There are a variety of reasons for this development, too many, in fact, to describe in the limited space here. It is important for lawyers and their clients to protect their interests in court to the maximum extent necessary. But one must also be mindful of the potential costs, which can be overwhelming and sometimes might lead to worse outcomes for everyone than if the parties had been able to sit down and negotiate from the beginning. More broadly, rising interest rates will pose a challenge for leveraged companies and their creditors, but also opportunities for distressed investors and potential acquirers of distressed companies.

Biography:

Who's Who Legal Restructuring & Insolvency

Richard G Mason has been a partner in the restructuring and finance department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz for over 20 years.

Mr Mason has had leading roles in many of the largest and most complex bankruptcies and out-of-court restructurings during that time, including Energy Future Holdings, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), Hawker Beechcraft, Kerzner International, FairPoint Communications, Masonite, Spectrum Brands and Delphi Corporation. He represents bank and bondholder groups, acquirers, distressed investors, boards of directors, private equity sponsors and other significant creditors and shareholders in domestic and international matters.

Mr Mason is a co-author of Collier’s Bankruptcy Practice Guide. He speaks on insolvency subjects at prominent institutions around the world. These include the American Bankruptcy Institute/New York University School of Law bankruptcy and business reorganisation workshop, Columbia University Business School, the Canadian Institute, LUISS Guido Carli, the Israeli Ministry of Justice and the Hawkamah Institute for Corporate Governance (Dubai). Previously, he was a co-chair of the secured transactions and insolvency committee of the ABA section of international law.

Mr Mason is a fellow of the American College of Bankruptcy. Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers identifies him as one of the leading restructuring lawyers in the United States. K&A Restructuring Register lists him as one of America’s top restructuring advisers.

Mr Mason graduated magna cum laude from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1983 with a BS in Economics. He was inducted into the Phi Kappa Phi honor fraternity while at VCU. Mr Mason received a JD cum laude from New York University in 1987. At NYU, he became a member of the Order of the Coif and was on the staff of the Annual Survey of American Law.

Mr Mason is an active volunteer for several non-profit organisations. He is a co-chair of the bankruptcy and reorganisation group of the UJA-Federation of New York's lawyers division, and a member of the New Leadership Network of the American Israel public affairs committee. An Eagle Scout, he is an executive committee member of the board of trustees of the Boy Scouts of America's Greater New York Councils. In 2012 he received the Silver Beaver Award for his leadership on behalf of over 40,000 Scouts and Explorers in New York City. 

Together with his wife Beth and their two children, Mr Mason founded the Mason Civic League, a 501(c)(3) charity dedicated to providing educational, art and civic support in Hoboken, New Jersey and beyond.

WWL says: Richard Mason is one of the foremost practitioners in the country. His prominent practice sees him represent creditors on issues including complex out-of-court restructurings and bankruptcies.

This biography is an extract from Who's Who Legal: Restructuring & Insolvency which can be purchased from our Shop.

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