Heinrich von Pierer joined the German industrial giant Siemens in 1969 as a lawyer. Promoted to chief executive in 1992, he retired 13 years later from the helm of the €75 billion (about $82 billion) conglomerate (Fin. Times, Nov. 18, 2005 at Spec. Rep. 4).
Charles O. Prince, III, formerly the General Counsel, and now the CEO of Citigroup, rivals von Pierer as one of the most powerful ex-general counsel.
Going back several years, Sol Linowitz was the general counsel of Xerox and then became its CEO. Hank Barnette followed the same path at Bethlehem Steel (and attended executive education courses at Harvard Business School to hone his general management skills).
According to SpencerStuart, 10.8 percent of the CEOs of companies in the S&P 500 have law degrees. They include Sumner Redstone (Viacom), Ken Chenault (American Express) and Richard Parsons (Time Warner) (Cited in Constance E. Bagley, Winning Legally: How to Use the Law to Create Value, Marshal Resources, and Manage Risks (Harv. Bus. School Press 2005) at 267, n. 23).
While it’s true there is only one GC at the top of the pile, perhaps those beneath have a bit more opportunity to rise if they consider that even GCs can be promoted.