Former Gibson Dunn & Crutcher managing partner and chairman Ron Beard has died at 83, after a battle with cancer.
Beard, who served as firm managing partner from 1991 to 1997 and then chairman from 1991 to 2001 and later became a consultant at the Zeughauser Group, died on April 9.
“Ron was kind, caring, and compassionate. He always made himself available for young lawyers who sought his counsel,” said former Gibson Dunn managing partner and chairman Ken Doran, who succeeded Beard in the chairman role. “He was a person of great character, uncompromising integrity, and he was unfailingly optimistic.”
Overall, Beard spent 38 years at the Los Angeles-founded firm. During Beard’s time in leadership, Gibson Dunn grew its annual revenues from $250 to $550 million. Law firm consultant Peter Zeughauser noted that Beard invited him to a firm retreat near the end of his tenure entitled “Survival of the Fittest,” in which the leader anticipated the intensely competitive law firm market of the present and predicted that 25 firms would emerge at the top of the heap.
“Back then, Gibson Dunn was a regional firm, and the retreat was about how to get Gibson Dunn to be among those 25 firms,” Zeughauser said.
In the latest Am Law 100 rankings, Gibson Dunn ranked twelfth, with $2.1 billion in revenue. “He set Gibson Dunn on that course.”
A corporate lawyer by training, Beard was also known for his ability to take on diverse work. In the 1970s, when Gibson Dunn was representing Memorex in a major antitrust suit against IBM, the client wanted a transactional attorney on the team. According to Doran, the company was so impressed by Beard that it insisted that he put on its final witness and cross-examine IBM’s pricing specialist. He also argued the matter on appeal.
“He was an old-school consigliere who earned people’s trust,” Doran said.
Zeughauser also described him as a pioneer of client-facing activity: “He was one of the first chairs to go out and do client service interviews.”
Beard was committed to the growth and development of Gibson Dunn as a global firm and maintained an intense interest in world affairs. Early in his career, Beard spent four years in Gibson Dunn’s Paris office, and by the time he returned to the U.S., he was drafting documents and negotiating deals in French. Gibson Dunn managing partner Dan Frost later sent him abroad again to launch the firm’s London office, although he was never resident there.
“Ron had no airs about him and treated everybody the same. He had a kind way about him; it was really inspiring for others,” Doran said. “Because of that, he brought the best out of people.”
After stepping down from leadership, Beard joined the Zeughauser Group as a consultant. Zeughauser described him as the inspiration for the practice, noting that Beard was his first client, hiring him in 1995 for a four-hour workshop on alternative pricing, well over a decade before anyone had heard of a pricing specialist in a major law firm.
“It was like having a clerkship for a Supreme Court justice, for the chief judge even,” Zeughauser said about Beard coming aboard. “I’d come out of a general counsel position, I knew a lot about how clients viewed their law firms but I really didn’t know anything about firm management and how law firms were run. It can be fairly said that Ron, for a long time, taught me everything I knew, from compensation systems to succession planning to partner admissions to capital accounts to law firm/banking relationships.”
Outside of the legal work, Beard was a gifted athlete and a scratch golfer. He served as the chair of the board at equipment manufacturer Callaway Golf, also sitting on the audit, nominating, corporate governance, compensation, and management succession committees at the company.
He also spent 35 years on the board of trustees at his alma mater Denison University, including five years as board chair.
And despite having spent his career in Southern California, his baseball allegiances were elsewhere.
“He was about a devout a Yankees fan as there was on the planet,” Zeughauser said.