As a new decade dawns, a changing of the guard brings new leadership to the American Bankruptcy Institute. Longtime deputy director Amy Quackenboss has taken the reins upon the retirement of Sam Gerdano. Quackenboss brings a deep understanding of the agency and its role in the insolvency world, but she has fresh ideas for attracting millennials to the fold and will be launching a new strategic plan for the venerable organization.
Amy Quackenboss has spent the last nine years as deputy director of the American Bankruptcy Institute, but that didn’t make her a shoo-in for the top job when longtime Executive Director Sam Gerdano announced his retirement in June 2019.
Instead, ABI’s executive committee hired a recruiting firm and launched a national search, receiving about 70 applications and interviewing several candidates before offering Quackenboss the position.
Exuding a quiet confidence, Quackenboss says, although some in the organization were surprised by the process, she welcomed the opportunity to compete for the top job.
“I was always a candidate,” she says. “So, I applied, of course, and went through the interview process, which was honestly a good effort.
“I think it showed I was definitely the most qualified out there, which was a good thing for the organization and for the staff to see as well.”
Quackenboss’ relationship with the ABI goes back long before her move to Washington, D.C., where the agency is based, and stretches back to her days on the front lines of bankruptcy litigation.
After graduating from Washington and Lee law school, she joined Hunton and Williams in Atlanta. She started out in the Securities Litigation Group. The year was 1998, and after she spent nine months working in security litigation, bankruptcies started picking up. The Atlanta group had one partner who did bankruptcy work, and he was so busy, he asked her to go to a hearing in his place.
“You’re going to lose,” he warned her. “You just go down there. Here’s what you need to say.”
She did lose the case, but she left the courtroom impressed with the cordiality and professionalism of the bankruptcy bar.
“Even though I lost, the judge was nice to me, and the opposing counsel was nice to me, and it was a good experience. The partner at the time said, ‘Hey, I’m going to need help,’ and it was great because I got to do it.”
Quackenboss is, she explains, a litigator at heart, and in bankruptcy she spent more time in court than many of the other junior associates, who become bogged down in document reviews for complex litigation cases. She spent 12 years at Hunton, and her husband still works for the firm.
Making a Switch
The time came when Hunton wanted Quackenboss to move to Washington to help out with the labor and employment practice in the capital. But Quackenboss had just had a baby and was looking for an in-house legal position that offered more opportunity to spend time with her family. She received an email from then ABI deputy director, Felicia Turner who, ironically, wanted to return to Atlanta and was looking for a suitable position there.
Quackenboss did end up moving to the capital, but as Turner’s replacement at the ABI rather than as a Hunton associate.
“It’s been a really great transition for me,” says Quackenboss. “I still get to do very substantive bankruptcy work. I’m also very involved in our journal.”
For anyone unfamiliar with ABI, the organization publishes the ABI Journal for its members in addition to articles and whitepapers on a variety of bankruptcy-related topics. ABI offers classes, webinars and panels throughout the year. The ABI also produces podcasts, a format which Quackenboss says is regaining popularity after a brief dip.
The ABI has just completed a strategic planning process it began in 2017, which Quackenboss co-led with CIO Karim Guirguis. The plan will be released to the public sometime during the first quarter of 2020, but Quackenboss promises it involves, “a lot of cool, in my opinion, amazing things, including some innovative technology and reassessment of our products and services.”
Look for an announcement in February or March.
She adds that the main goal is to position the ABI as the go-to organization for insolvency professionals. “We might have to pivot to do that,” she adds.
Like every business from supermarkets to department stores, the ABI is trying to reevaluate how its offerings are viewed by millennials and attempting to revamp the way it communicates with younger professionals.
“The law professional is changing in and of itself,” Quackenboss points out. “Technology is becoming a bigger part of the legal profession, which means that organizations like ABI are going have to figure out how to provide education to our members using those technological advances.”
“Artificial intelligence is one way we communicate with young professionals. It is no longer the day of typing letters and putting them in the mail, asking them to rejoin,” she adds.
On the other hand, technology, in the form of the internet, has swept many iconic businesses into Chapter 11. Some contend that the bankruptcy process has become so expensive, that business don’t even try to restructure — they just hop straight into liquidation.
Relief for Small Businesses
“I think the Small Business Reorganization Act, which ABI had a very large part in helping with, is going to change filings and make it more accessible for small businesses,” says Quackenboss. “That will be something that changes the landscape.”
The bill was signed into law by President Trump in August, 2019 and amends the Bankruptcy Code and Title 28 of the U.S. Code to provide special rules and procedures for “small business debtors.” Quackenboss says that the revisions in the new law have lowered the debt limit required to file Chapter 11, which should help smaller, struggling businesses.
“The big guys are going to do what they going to do anyway,” she quips.
ABI, she points out, is preparing articles and educational programs to help members understand the revisions to the code.
While retail has captured the bankruptcy headlines — Sears, Toys “R” Us, Pier 1 — in recent years, healthcare bankruptcies are increasing, and ABI is on top of that, too.
“We started a new health care program last year, and we’re going to do another one in March, I think, because we’re seeing an uptick in health care filings and important issues are coming out because of that,” she says.
While news headlines center on the health care crisis in rural areas, where many hospitals have been forced to close, Quackenboss notes that the opioid crisis has had an impact on pharmaceutical companies, which are juggling an assortment of lawsuits. While many of those companies are so well-positioned, she explains, they just pay the fines, others are moving their money to Europe. At the moment, she says, no one knows the impact this will have on the health system in the U.S. or how it will play out.
It’s an exciting time in the world of insolvency, and Quackenboss is eager to see ABI take a leading role.
“I’m thrilled to be leading this organization that I have been a member of and that I love,” she says. “I’m excited to work side by side with the volunteer leaders. I have big shoes to fill, but I’m excited about building on the base that Sam has created and taking the ABI to the next generation of insolvency practitioners around the world.
“I would encourage everyone to reach out to me if they have ideas about anything, and I’m very open to talking to those in the insolvency industry to figure out where we’re going to go.” •