On Oct. 26, The Atlanta Business Chronicle will present its Dealmakers Lifetime Achievement Award for impactful deal making to Jonathan Golden, partner in Arnall, Golden Gregory LLC, a Midtown law firm with over 200 lawyers. Getting to know the eponymous Golden reveals the story of a local Morningside/Grady/Westminster School young man who went on to graduate from Princeton University and Harvard Law School, then into the legal footsteps of his father, Sol Golden, one of the original AGG founders.
Ever modest, Golden said, “Being chosen for the ABC award is very humbling. I was quite surprised when I was told I had been selected.”
Golden is known for his 50 years of experience guiding publicly held and private companies through major transactions, mergers, and acquisitions, often while serving on their boards. Golden has taken more than a dozen companies from start up to listing on the New York Stock Exchange, most notably, Sysco, a national food distribution company that went through 100 acquisitions under his guidance.
Also, locally he was involved in the sale of The Big Apple Supermarket chain to a private equity firm while spinning off the real estate in an innovative way involving re-leasing.
Golden told the AJT, “The important element in representing clients in a merger or acquisition is to listen carefully to the other side and try to understand what they want. I try to structure a transaction so that the opposite party believes that they are getting a significant share of what they want without giving up what my client is seeking. Being patient and non-reactive is critical – maintaining a calm and respectful atmosphere is the key to lowering the temperature and keeping egos from getting in the way of a successful outcome.”
Golden said he has learned along the way that some of the best deals are the ones that didn’t close – a perspective realized in hindsight. He added, “I can remember thinking, a year after some deal that did not happen, that it was a blessing that it failed.”
Looking back on the Sysco deal, as the corporation was headquartered in Houston, and the result of a simultaneous merger of nine independent food distributors and the public offering of the stock, Golden was a young partner assigned to the public offering portion of the transaction. The chairman of Sysco and Golden “gelled” and he started doing their acquisition work, as they methodically consolidated the industry.
Golden is also a legal expert on closely held and family businesses. He stated, “What has changed in this is the exit path. In the past, the primary exit for a successful entrepreneur was to either sell to another business entity, private or public, or to sell equity in a public offering. Now more of these businesses are being sold to private equity buyers. I started out doing a lot of public offering work for clients; recently, this has changed to sales to private equity. It is faster and more efficient to the seller and to the buyer. I have learned to apply patience, psychology, and respect to deal with conflict within some family businesses.”
The Goldens are members of The Temple where Jonathan was confirmed, Sol taught Sunday school, and mom was president of the Sisterhood. He and his wife, Bobbie, who is a clinical psychologist, are art devotees who describe their collection as “small, but nice – leaning towards folk art, contemporary works, and Native American basketry.” They are parents to two sons, one of whom is an AGG partner, and the other runs a hedge fund in New York. Jonathan is a self-described “recovering” tennis player, hiker, sailor, and foodie who enjoys traveling to small towns and out of the way villages abroad.
Looking back at AGG’s growth, Golden said “I joined in 1962 and was the sixth lawyer in the office. When the firm was small, it was more family-like, homey, and collegial. Now it’s more of a business. Intellectually stimulating, but still a big business. I certainly didn’t think we would be 200 lawyers when I joined, but ‘a high tide raises all ships.’”
He added, “I get a kick out of meeting the younger lawyers and relating the firm’s history. I can hardly believe it, but next year we will celebrate our 75th anniversary.”