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VIDEO: GRR lifetime achievement award - Bruce Leonard 1944-2017

Kyriaki Karadelis

26 June 2017

VIDEO: GRR lifetime achievement award - Bruce Leonard 1944-2017

The late Bruce Leonard, founder of the International Insolvency Institute (III), received posthumous honours at GRR's Charity Awards on 21 June, in the form of a poignant film tribute recorded a few days earlier at a meeting of the very organisation he helped found.

In a video shot during the III's 17th Annual Conference in London, Leonard's colleagues spoke to GRR of the major legacy he leaves behind to the cross-border restructuring and insolvency world, and recalled fond anecdotes of their time working closely with him.

Before the film was played to guests at the charity awards ceremony and dinner on Wednesday, Dan Glosband, a consultant at CBInsolvency in Boston and one of the drafters of Chapter 15 of the US Bankruptcy Code - as well as a long-time member of the III - gave opening remarks about Leonard, who he described as "a friend of mine and a real giant in the cross-border insolvency world".

Leonard's greatest skill, he noted, was motivating other people to make his vision happen. "Bruce was an ideas man - not the executor - but [he excelled at] putting organisations together and then getting other people to implement those ideas," Glosband told the audience.

The "most visible manifestation" of Leonard's visionary approach was the III, he added. Set up in 2000, the Institute now has over 350 members in over 60 countries.

Glosband said that Leonard's early work in bringing together practitioners, judges and academics underlined more recent projects like the Judicial Insolvency Network (JIN), whose Guidelines for Communication and Cooperation between Courts in Cross-Border Insolvency Matters won the award for "most important overall development" earlier in the evening.

"You really can't overestimate what Bruce has contributed to this field," he closed. 

Video tribute to a visionary

The short film, produced by GRR at the III, features anecdotes from Leonard Gilbert, a partner at Holland & Knight in Tampa, Florida, who remembers how a generous Leonard presented him with his first opportunity to give a paper to the International Bar Association's Committee J (now known as the Insolvency Section) around 30 years ago.

Gilbert was himself honoured at the III with its second-ever Founder's Award - created in Bruce Leonard's name - at the institute's "Legendary Dinner" at Middle Temple on 19 June.

The film also features Don Bernstein, chairman of Davis Polk & Wardwell's insolvency and restructuring group, acknowledging how the "connectedness" of senior professionals in the insolvency area was one of Leonard's greatest achievements, leading to the drafting of the UNCITRAL Model Law on Cross-border Insolvency, and the first court-to-court communication guidelines for insolvency cases produced by the American Law Institute (ALI) and the III.

David Ward, a partner at Cassels Brock in Toronto who worked closely with Leonard in private practice for years, says he practically "invented cross-border insolvency", paving the way in the 1990s for many of the developments that are taken for granted today.

Meanwhile Bob Wessels, professor emeritus at Leiden University and expert counsel to the European Commission, explains how cross-border insolvency was "a jungle" before Leonard's leadership brought about change.

Bruce Leonard and the GRR Charity Awards

Leonard passed away in January after a long illness. Upon news of his death, GRR published a detailed tribute recalling his life and work - from his birth in a tiny village in Manitoba, to his success as private practice lawyer in Toronto, his academic activities, and his leadership of a myriad professional associations in Canada, the US and globally.

As well as setting up the III in 2000, Leonard was a co-chair of the IBA's Committee J from 1992 to 1996; a founder of the Insolvency Institute of Canada; chair of the insolvency section of the Ontario Bar Association; vice chair of the American Bar Association's international bankruptcy subcommittee; a director of the American Bankruptcy Institute from 1997 to 2000; and only the second Canadian ever to be elected a fellow of the American College of Bankruptcy.

In particular, he served on the IBA's delegation to UNCITRAL Working Group V (Insolvency) when it was in its formative years, helping it in the preparatory work for the drafting of the Model Law in 1997 and its accompanying Legislative Guide on Insolvency Law in 2004.

Leonard was also vital in supporting GRR ahead of its launch in March 2016, as an energetic and committed member of our editorial board.

The 2017 lifetime achievement award has been dedicated to the memory of our late friend and supporter, who inspired and connected many others.

Taking place at the Waldorf Hilton, the inaugural GRR Charity Awards recognised people, matters and jurisdictions that impressed over the past year in nine different categories. A full list of winners has been published online.

As Glosband took to the stage to present the lifetime achievement award, he remarked that he was proud to have had a hand in the cross-border recognition of coking coal supplier Winsway Enterprises' Hong Kong scheme of arrangement. That decision, by a New York court, won "most important recognition decision" on the night.

The evening also marked the release of the first GRR 100 guide to approved cross-border insolvency and restructuring practices, plus the 30 firms that came top in our research in the GRR 30 ranking.