Noah Heller, 38Noah Heller '00 in Crain's New York Business, April 03, 2014
"Good timing." That's Noah Heller's explanation of his ascent to chief executive of law firm Katten Muchin Rosenman last year, becoming the youngest CEO in the current Am Law 100. Peers would beg to differ, but here's his version: He graduated from Fordham Law School in 2000 with no job offers. But it was the beginning of the end for the tech bubble, and the Securities and Exchange Commission was scrambling for lawyers for mounting investigations into securities fraud and bankruptcies.
"I've always had this confidence that everything's going to work out," Mr. Heller said.
He gained niche expertise just as distressed debt trading—buying and selling debts of bankrupt companies—was growing. He moved to the private sector, facilitating those deals. Soon, the financial crisis flooded the market with distressed debt.
Those who work with him dismiss the theory that he was merely in the right place at the right time. They point to his keen understanding of people's motivations, coupled with deft business acumen. "He puts himself in our shoes and knows what I'm trying to accomplish," said private-equity client Ian Sandler, COO of Carlyle Group's Global Market Strategies division. "He sees the trade in the big picture."
Mr. Heller credits his parents—a high-school gym teacher and a physical therapist—for his great people skills and willingness to take appropriate risks.
As a young CEO in a changing industry, he knows that Katten—a 600-lawyer firm with 2013 revenue of nearly $506 million—has to try bold new strategies, some risky. But there's that confidence again: "I'm not willing to fail often, but I am willing to fail in order to learn," he said.