Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Restructuring Olympics

Kevyn Orr is just like any Washington, D.C. bankruptcy attorney who is black, who has a strong resume, and who oozes confidence.

Except that he's been plucked from the vine to save a city that some say is beyond saving.

Orr is Detroit's new Emergency Financial Manager (EFM). He is unique in that, while he's a bankruptcy lawyer and has been a part of many such restructurings, he actually would prefer not to lead the city into bankruptcy as a way to cure what ails it.

"Frankly, I'd like to avoid it," Orr told the Detroit News' Nolan Finley. "Bankruptcy can certainly have benefits to what the emergency manager would have to do, but I would like to think of that as a last resort as opposed to a first option. No, I don't think we're inevitably headed to bankruptcy, but people have got to be realistic, reasonable and focused on changing the architecture of the finances of the city so they can go into a sustainable model for the future."

Orr might be the most delusional man in America. He calls the Detroit EFM job "the Olympics of restructuring," yet he says the job could be done not within the planned 18 months, but three to six months, "if people in a collegial and good faith basis could get together."

Ahh, more delusional thoughts. Words like "collegial" and "good faith basis" are not normally indigenous to the machinations of Detroit.

But Orr is confident, and with a connection to Michigan, professionally ("this is the state that gave me my start"), and a University of Michigan graduate, he says he felt "compelled" to take the EFM job when Governor Rick Snyder came calling.

"(This could be) something I can tell my grandkids about."


Kevyn Orr


Orr is 54. With the decisions he has to make, and the enormity of the task before him, you would think his main objective would be to make it to 55.

But at least the City Council dropped plans for a lawsuit to stop the EFM, albeit temporarily, from taking over. Orr officially starts his new job on March 28. Be thankful for small favors.

The good news, I suppose, is that Orr doesn't seem to think that the turnaround of Detroit is an impossible task. Difficult? Yes. History making, potentially? Double yes. But not impossible.

But Kevyn Orr might not be so delusional after all.

"I'm prepared to be the most hated man for a period of time," Orr told Finley.

That may be the most intuitive thing anyone in a leadership role in the city of Detroit has ever said.


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