Paul Weiss Alum to Lead NHL's Panthers Post-Sale
When the National Hockey League's Florida Panthers take the ice for their 2013-14 season opener on Thursday night, they will do so just days after the team's $250 million sale to a group led by New York Law School graduate and former New York Mercantile Exchange chairman Vincent Viola.
Viola, who also graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, currently serves as chairman and CEO of New York–based Virtu Financial, a high-speed electronic trading firm he founded in 2008.
When he launched Virtu, which has grown into one of the country's largest electronic traders, Viola recruited corporate lawyer Douglas Cifu from the partnership ranks at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. With the acquisition of the 20-year-old Panthers franchise now complete, Viola is once again relying on Cifu, this time to serve as vice chairman, partner, and alternate governor of the team.
Reached by The Am Law Daily in his New York office on Tuesday, Cifu, Virtu's president and COO, says that while he is a member of the Panthers ownership group, Viola still plays the role of “Batman to my very small Robin."
The two men, both of whom are Long Island natives, met in 2004 when Cifu and Paul Weiss were advising Greenwich, Connecticut–based private equity firm General Atlantic as it prepared to invest $135 million in New York Mercantile Exchange owner NYMEX Holdings. (NYMEX, which went public in 2006, was sold for nearly $9 billion in 2008 to Chicago-based exchange operator CME Group.)
“It’s a good lesson for lawyers to always be nice to those across the table from them,” Cifu says, laughing. “Vince and I became good friends, and the next time he needed a lawyer, he called me.”
Cifu did what many of his colleagues considered unthinkable when he left Paul Weiss to join Viola as he was forming Virtu five years ago. Having started his career at Paul Weiss upon graduating from Columbia Law School in 1990, he made partner eight years later on January 1, 1999, and eventually rose to become deputy chair of the firm’s corporate group.
Cifu worked on many major M&A deals during his tenure at Paul Weiss, including Polo Ralph Lauren's $230 million acquisition of RL Childrenswear in 2004, General Atlantic's $1.2 billion buy of medical data services company Emdeon in 2006, and transportation equipment and container company Interpool on its $2.4 billion sale to Fortress Investment Group in 2007. (Cifu advised Interpool's board of directors on the latter transaction.)
He stepped down from the Paul Weiss partnership on January 1, 2008—almost 18 years after joining the Am Law 100 firm. Asked about the circumstances surrounding the move, Cifu says he was “too stupid” to worry about joining a new company just as the global economy collapsed.
Five years later, Cifu has no regrets about the decision he made. Earlier this year, Independent Bank Group, a Texas-based bank holding company founded by Viola, raised $83 million in an initial public offering. Cifu serves as a lead independent director for the company, which controls Independent Bank and its roughly $2 billion in assets.