Gifts from Thomas Cole, ’75, and the Sidley Austin Foundation have created the Thomas A. Cole–Sidley Austin Distinguished Visiting Professorship in Business Law.
The professorship adds another prominent faculty presence within the Law School’s Doctoroff Business Leadership Program. It is held this year by Steven Kaplan, who has served on the faculty of the Booth School of Business since 1988 and has also been the faculty director of the Booth School’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Kaplan, who has taught at the Law School twice before, will teach entrepreneurial finance.
Thomas Cole, a Sidley Austin partner, stepped down last year as chair of the firm’s executive committee after 15 years in that position. Cole’s practice has focused on public company mergers and acquisitions and corporate governance. He has been involved in scores of notable transactions, including more than 35 mergers and spin-offs valued at more than a billion dollars each. He says: “I came to the Law School wanting to be a corporate lawyer, without understanding what that really meant. I learned what it meant from a great faculty, and none greater than Walter Blum—any class he taught, I took. I’ll be grateful to him forever.”
Cole joined Sidley right out of law school. Seven years later, having become a partner, he also became (while retaining his partnership role at Sidley) vice president for law at Chicago-based Northwest Industries, then a Fortune 100 conglomerate. He held that position for three years. “At a relatively young age,” Cole recalls, “I got to see first-hand how CEOs, general counsel, and boards looked at legal issues and made decisions. That experience was formative, enabling me to initiate the M&A practice when I returned full-time to Sidley in 1985, and also informing my corporate governance practice, which is transactionally oriented, focusing on how boards make decisions.”
Last year, Cole resumed teaching the corporate governance seminar at the Law School that he led for six years in the 1990s but then had to set aside because of his firm leadership responsibilities. “I’m very happy to be back teaching at this school that I so love and admire,” he says.
Cole has served five terms on the Law School’s Visiting Committee, has been a member of the Law School Business Advisory Council since its formation, and has served as a volunteer at many reunions. He is a trustee of the University of Chicago, and he recently retired from the board of Northwestern Memorial Healthcare after twenty years of service, including a term as board chair.
Carter Phillips, who succeeded Cole as Sidley’s executive committee chair, says, “Tom helped manage our law firm through unprecedented growth and prosperity. In searching for a meaningful way to recognize his contributions to the firm, we could identify no better way to do that than to contribute to a professorship at the University of Chicago Law School, which has been and still is such an important part of Tom’s professional life.”
This is the second professorship to carry the Sidley Austin name. Lior Strahilevitz has been Sidley Austin Professor of Law since that chair was established in 2011.
Dean Schill observes: “Tom Cole has for decades been the gold standard in American corporate law and he has also been one of the Law School’s greatest supporters and advocates. Sidley has for years enjoyed a special relationship with the Law School. More of our graduates are attorneys at Sidley than at any other law firm in the nation. I couldn’t be happier and prouder than to have a professorship named after Tom and the firm that will honor both in perpetuity.”