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Alumni Short

Eric M. Swedenburg '99: Thriving on High-Profile and Novel Deals

Lately Eric M. Swedenburg ’99 has found himself at the center of deals that make headlines as well as heart-stopping amounts of money.

One of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett’s younger partners, Swedenburg was featured in Investment Dealer’s Digest’s “Forty Under Forty” for helping to broker the sale of the New Jersey Nets to Mikhail Prokhorov, Russia’s richest businessman. Prokhorov is running the team, which is getting a new arena in Brooklyn as part of the massive Atlantic Yards neighborhood rebuilding project.

But Swedenburg, a lifelong sports fan, says his hard work won’t earn him free tickets to Nets games there. “I’ll need to buy them, just like everybody else, but this may be the only time I’ll be able to justify paying for rock star seats.”

Swedenburg also recently won American Lawyer’s Dealmaker of the Year, with a colleague, for representing Wyeth in pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s $68 million purchase of the smaller firm. “It was great to work on a really fascinating transaction, but there was a bittersweet element too,” he says. “When Pfizer absorbed Wyeth we lost a longtime client, and I saw firsthand how tumultuous the acquisition was for a number of people I knew well and considered good friends.”

Now Swedenburg and colleagues are working on what may be the most novel deal in his career. Mosaic is a $37 billion company that provides crop nutrients and feed ingredients worldwide. It recently announced a breakaway from its even bigger parent company, Cargill, which is divesting its 64 percent stake—that’s 286 million shares--in Mosaic.

“It’s a complicated deal, with a lot of moving parts,” says Swedenburg. The transaction involves the recapitalization of Mosaic’s stock, followed by a split-off and public offerings of its shares over time. “The deal took time to come together because multiple parties were involved, the transaction structure was unique, and we needed to work with the IRS and other governmental agencies,” he notes.

“Eric is highly respected at the firm as a young star in the M&A group,” says William Curbow, a colleague at Simpson Thacher. “He combines an approachable manner and an ethic for hard work with his legal skills, so he is a big plus on any transaction team.”

After college--at the University of Virginia, where he majored in accounting--Swedenburg worked for three years as an auditor at Price Waterhouse in Washington, D.C., before enrolling in law school in 1996. “I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer but I didn’t know what kind,” he says. He found his calling when he saw deal making up close through his accounting work and loved it.

Shopping for the right law school, he decided that “Cornell Law fit the bill.” It had the college town atmosphere he wanted and a reputation for placing its graduates in top New York City corporate law firms.

“A big part of law school is teaching you how to think like a lawyer, whether you go onto litigation or transactional work, and Cornell does that well,” Swedenburg says. “It was a good learning environment and a fabulous education. And I liked the small class size. You got to know just about everybody and formed lasting friendships.”

He did a summer internship at Simpson Thacher in 1998, joined the firm the following year, and has been there ever since. “I’ve been doing M&A since I started, and it’s been great,” Swedenburg says. “There’s always something going on here, even with the recession, that’s either high profile, novel, or both. That’s what makes the practice interesting.”

His advice for current students: “Hopefully nobody’s shying away from aspirations of being a corporate lawyer because of the market’s downturn over the last couple of years,” he says. “The market is improving now, and the hiring is sure to continue to increase. There’s more corporate deal activity, and more young lawyers will be needed to help with it. While I don’t have a crystal ball, I think it’s a pretty good time to be starting law school in terms of job opportunities being there when you graduate.”

--Linda Brandt Myers