McLean-based mortgage giant Freddie Mac had a lot on its hands last year. An NYSE-listed company with a shareholder class action; ERISA and derivative actions; an SEC enforcement action; an OFHEO consent order; legislative challenges; even problems with the FEC. A lawyer’s nightmare? Not for Bob Bostrom, recruited by Heidrick & Struggles 18 months ago from Winston & Strawn, where he was NY managing partner seven years and built a corporate governance and financial institutions practice. “We’re No. 50 on the Fortune 500 and securitize $1.7 trillion in mortgages, and we have a great public mission,” he tells Bisnow. “It was the most incredible opportunity I could have dreamed of.” We went to their sprawling Toll Road campus last week to see for ourselves.
The New York Islanders tried to sell Winston a $250,000/yr. skybox at Nassau Coliseum but Bob told them it was too much of a schlep from Manhattan. In the process, he found out about a real estate deal they needed done, and eventually Winston became the team owner’s counsel. Funny, it was no longer such a schlep to Uniondale.
Bob grew up in New Britain, Conn., got a masters in international affairs from Columbia, and planned to teach political science, then had second thoughts about academic salaries. So he went to Boston College law school and to satisfy his international interests started his career at the NY Fed working with foreign banks and practiced with Brown & Wood and Windels Marx. He joined Winston in NYC 1990, took four years out as EVP and GC of Nat West–“the management experience I needed for this job,” he says–and returned to Winston in ‘96. There he led the firm’s NYC expansion from 75 lawyers to over 250.
Freddie has 90 in-house lawyers and Bob, an EVP reporting to the CEO, has four direct reports: two SVPs and two VPs who serve as deputy GCs overseeing transactions, corporate and securities, regulatory, and corporate governance. For outside work, they use Covington, Cadwalader, and Gibson Dunn and the Board uses Cahill Gordon. One thing he's learned as GC? “I want to be able to make one call, to a senior relationship partner, and know that the job is going to get done.”
Bob’s familiarity with Freddie Mac two years ago was largely limited to the “special report of examination” on it he used as an instructor in a Duke training program for board directors. But he had a background in the newly critical “internal attestation process” under Sarbox going back to his time as GC at Nat West dealing with the Federal Deposit Insurance Act. Another fortuity: the Freddie president had been president of Fleet Bank (that acquired Nat West), and consulted the former Fleet GC, who recommended Bob. When recruiters called on Dec. 23, 2005, he said he could consider only if the process were done in five weeks, because Winston had a Jan. 31 fiscal year and to wait longer would create financial issues. They pulled out the stops, he made three visits to McLean, got the offer, deferred vacation, and, presto, started Feb. 1 last year.
With a map of his beloved Martha’s Vineyard. Bob’s wife Elizabeth, a former TV producer, comes from a nine-generation whaling clan there. They’ve taken their family (three grown daughters and a younger son) to Edgartown for nearly 30 years. The fact DC has only one flight a day makes it more difficult: This summer he went only three times; when they lived in Connecticut he was up almost every weekend.
And because we are on the Bisnow beat, we asked a couple last really important questions. First, about the tub of pretzels we found in the conference room. “These are a Freddie Mac thing–our signature treat. Ronald Regan had his jelly beans, and Dick Syron [Freddie Mac’s CEO] has his pretzels.” And offbeat hobbies? “I’m a landscapaholic. Moving rocks, clearing land, whatever–I just love playing outside with toys. I’ve got a collection of five chainsaws.” We didn’t pursue that one further.