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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 26, 2005 14 years ago

Ready to Grow

Gary Sasso will become CEO of Carlton Fields PA, one of Florida's largest firms. His mission: Continue to grow the firm.
by: Adam Hughes Staff Writer

Ready to Grow

By Janet Leiser

Senior Editor

In the past decade, Carlton Fields PA, one of Florida's five largest law firms, has grown slowly, opening offices in Miami and Atlanta to bolster its presence as a regional firm.

Now Carlton Fields has named Gary Sasso its heir apparent. A Wharton economics graduate and managing shareholder of the firm's litigation practice group, Sasso will replace CEO Tom Snow when he retires in February.

Sasso, 52, was at a meeting of the American Bar Association in Chicago when he was elected president and CEO at an Aug. 4 Carlton Fields board meeting. He was one of two candidates selected by a firm task force, led by board chair Sylvia Walbolt.

"Gary is a superb lawyer, just a consummate professional," Walbolt says. "I think he's going to be a superb leader for our firm going forward."

Walbolt, who has been with the Tampa-based firm since 1963, declined to name the other CEO nominee or to say whether the vote for Sasso was unanimous.

She expects the 240-lawyer firm, which has seven offices, to grow at a faster rate and to develop more of a national presence under Sasso's leadership, she says.

Sasso says it's important the firm not rest on its laurels.

"We've really enjoyed a great deal of success and progress over the past several years during Tom's leadership," he says. "We want to continue on the course we've been following, which is strategic growth for our firm."

Founded in the late 1800s, Carlton Fields last year moved into new headquarters at Corporate Center Three on Boy Scout Boulevard near Tampa International Airport. The firm occupies 87,000 square feet on the building's eighth, ninth and 10th floors.

Sasso, a Miami native, joined Carlton Fields in 1987, moving from Washington, D.C., where he worked at Bredhoff & Kaiser. He previously served as a law clerk for Justice Byron R. White on the U.S. Supreme Court and as a law clerk for Judge Spottswood W. Robinson III on the U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia.

Within a year of joining Carlton Fields, he was named a shareholder. His leadership role evolved over the past 18 years.

"Little by little I got involved increasingly in different committees and management functions of the firm," Sasso says. "And over the years I've spent a lot of time dealing with law firm issues."

When Snow formally announced his retirement early this year, the firm formed a committee of board members to investigate potential candidates and narrow the field. Walbolt says the committee started out with six names and narrowed it to two.

As a business litigator, Sasso has represented some of the state's largest utilities, including Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy, before the Public Service Commission. He is handling an appeal for tobacco company Philip Morris. And he represents Wachovia Bank in its lawsuit against Arthur Andersen over Sunbeam's acquisition of Coleman.

He plans to continue his legal practice on a limited basis after he becomes CEO, he says. Snow was Carlton Field's first full-time CEO.

The day-to-day operations of the firm are mostly handled by practice group leaders, Sasso says.

"It's my job to stick my head above the trees a little bit and see where we need to be going and make sure we're heading in the right direction," Sasso says.

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