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.
Richard Mason grew up and went to college in Richmond, Virginia. After graduating from the New York University School of Law in 1987, he joined Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz as an associate in what was then named the creditors’ rights department (now the restructuring and finance department). In 2019 he became the chair of the department. He is also a conferee of the National Bankruptcy Conference, which advises Congress on national bankruptcy laws.
How did you get to the position you are in now?
Growing up, I was a boy scout and I became an eagle scout at a young age. In college, I studied economics; in law school, I took financial statement accounting courses taught by business school professors. When I started in my firm, I switched back and forth between restructuring and financings. I also took every opportunity to speak and write publicly about bankruptcy issues and otherwise to reach beyond my “comfort zone”. All of those experiences prepared me for success as my career developed.
Are firms prepared for the wave of restructurings coming their way? How are you preparing as a firm? Are you trying to reposition lawyers from other practice areas?
The level of preparedness varies among firms. Wachtell Lipton is smaller than many of our competitors and has a history of working closely across disciplines. In particular, my department does both financings and restructurings; given the current extraordinary circumstances, with companies borrowing money that might or might not last until the crisis ends, this approach is critical to giving the best service to our clients. In past turbulent times, we have drawn expertise and “extra hands” when appropriate from other groups, and I believe that will continue to happen here.
In which industries are you seeing the most immediate problems and how do you plan to deal with it?
The “bricks and mortar” retail sector is clearly distressed, with several major bankruptcies already starting and more on the way. The same is true for the US oil and gas sector; most, if not all, of the “onshore” producers are unprofitable at today’s market prices. But until the public health issues are addressed, and the US and world economies are able to reopen safely and effectively, virtually every industry and sector could
face distress. Almost non-stop, we are helping our clients, on the company and creditor sides, deal with the liquidity and restructuring implications of the extraordinary contraction.
What are the likely long-term effects of covid-19 on the restructuring market?
The first wave of activity following the onset of the pandemic was financing-focused. It seemed that virtually every firm that was able to, and needed to, raise capital did so. That wave continues, and it has been followed by a wave of restructurings that started out relatively small, but will likely grow unless the pandemic recedes faster than generally predicted. For healthier companies in distressed sectors, this will provide acquisition opportunities, an area in which Wachtell Lipton specialises. If the economic distress is as significant and long-lasting as some have predicted, then restructuring professionals, distressed debt investment firms and other “players” in the market could be challenged in riding these waves and not sinking under them.
What measures have the US government introduced to tackle the current crisis?
The government has enacted a variety of stimulus measures intended to pump trillions of dollars into the economy, including loans to businesses likely to be forgiven if specified employment levels are maintained. Additionally, the Federal Reserve has adopted programmes intended to ease bond market access for companies that were investment-grade prior to the pandemic. And state and local governments have undertaken extraordinary measures to address the crisis. The sustainability of these efforts and their effects on the fiscal health of governments at all levels are concerning. This is particularly true in urban areas such as New York City, where the resource strain seems most pronounced.
What more could governments and standard-setting bodies be doing to assist?
Businesses across the country are looking for guidance about how to reopen. Essentially, this rests on public health. If they cannot keep their workers safe or assure their customers that the risk of contamination is being addressed, then a broad reopening seems likely to fail, at least until vaccines or treatments are widely available.
If you were an investor in distressed markets right now, what moves would you be making?
I would be very patient, to avoid “catching the falling knife”. I would prepare for the possibility that the US government’s support of the bond market runs a bit thin and more rescue financing opportunities appear.
How will your 30 years’ experience, including previous recessions, prepare you for the challenges brought on by the current crisis?
The human toll of this crisis is unlike anything I have seen or experienced. At the time of writing, more than 100,000 Americans, and hundreds of thousands worldwide, have died from the virus. Nothing could prepare me for that. My colleagues and I mourn for the families and communities across the globe that have suffered. As for the economic effects, which are also tragic, I draw from experiences in the recession of the early 1990s and of 2008-2009. The former was a long, broad downturn, which we could suffer here. The latter was a financial and liquidity crisis. Although our banking system is currently healthy, other parts of the economy need liquidity infusions and the US government has stepped in to help, in many ways reminiscent of the rescue programmes of 10 years ago.
Richard Mason is singled out by respondents as a go-to in the US market for large and complex bankruptcies and restructurings.
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, 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.