Joe Andrew seems to know how to grow things.
Andrew spent part of his youth living on a corn and soybean farm near Poe, in southern Allen County. In the 1990s, he helped boost the finances of the state and national Democratic Party organizations as their chairman. Since 2008, he has been the global chairman of a multinational law firm on an expansion kick.
His frequent-flier miles must be growing as well. In 2012, Andrew spent 279 days outside the U.S., including in Costa Rica, where his wife, Anne Slaughter Andrew, was the U.S. ambassador.
He has stopped trying to keep track of his days on foreign soil.
I don’t want to know anymore, he said with a smile, having just arrived this afternoon at his Washington, D.C., office from a business trip to Frankfurt, Germany.
Andrew, 54, is global chairman of Dentons, a law firm based in – well, nowhere specifically and everywhere in general. It has lawyers in the U.S., Europe, Africa, the Mideast and Asia. Andrew calls Dentons the first polycentric law firm in the world. We’re the only one that has no nationality.
He said that when he joined the firm’s predecessor in 2004, it was the 267th largest law firm in the world, based on number of attorneys. It has climbed to seventh, with 2,750 attorneys, 700 of them in America.
He and Dentons’ CEO, Elliott Portnoy, decided that in a globalized economy, the reality of it was that we needed to follow our clients, Andrew said.
Dentons formed last year as a merger among SNR Denton, Canadian law firm Fraser Milner Casgrain and European firm Salans. It grows through whole-firm combinations with law offices around the world. Andrew said the strategy means its lawyers already know the laws, languages, customs and politics of the locales where they work.
For instance, Dentons was the first law firm certified this year under South Africa’s Black Economic Empowerment legislation, Andrew said. More than half of Dentons South African attorneys are black, and they control more than 80 percent of the equity in those offices. Andrew said Dentons’ South African rivals are mostly white in a black-majority country.
Dentons is in London and Paris, Poland and Hungary, Egypt and Libya. Business interests overlap geopolitical tensions. Dentons has attorneys in nations that don’t get along – Russia and Ukraine, for example.
So we’re the local guys, is what it comes down to in these places, he said.
Dentons caused a stir in legal circles this year when it quit releasing its per-partner profit figures, saying such numbers are meaningless and can harm client relations. An editorial in The American Lawyer disagreed and estimated that Dentons’ per-partner profit fell 20 percent in 2013. Dentons hit back, saying a year-to-year, post-merger comparison was impossible for AmLaw to make.
More recently, LegalWeek reported that Dentons’ per-partner profits for the United Kingdom, the Mideast and Africa were up 23 percent from a year earlier. Dentons declined to comment to the publication.
Andrew’s world travels began as a young child. His family lived in Germany from 1961 until 1964, when his father was in the U.S. military. They stayed near Stuttgart and West Berlin when the Berlin Wall was new, a physical symbol of the Cold War divide between Western democracies and Soviet Union socialists. (Andrew’s 1993 spy novel, The Disciples, was set in 1989 against the collapse of Eastern Europe communism.)
Andrew graduated from Fort Wayne’s Wayne High School in 1978 and studied at Yale University and Yale Law School in New Haven, Connecticut. He cut his political teeth as a campaign worker for U.S. Rep. Ed Roush and Win Moses, who was elected Fort Wayne mayor in 1979.
He worked hard at it, Moses recalled. He learned the mechanics of polling and organizing precincts, meeting precinct committee people, door-to-door walking.
Andrew joined an Indianapolis law firm as a corporate attorney in the mid-1980s. That’s where he met his wife, an Evansville native. He fell in with other young Democrats who were about to reshape Indiana’s political landscape, including Evan Bayh, who would become a two-term governor and a two-term U.S. senator, and Joe Hogsett, who would be elected Indiana secretary of state and is now a U.S. district attorney.
Bayh selected Andrew, 34, as chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party in 1995. Moses, then a member of the Indiana House, said Andrew raised $1 million in campaign funds for House Democrats, who regained control of the chamber in the 1996 election and kept it until Republicans won a majority of seats in 2004.
He did a great job: young, enthusiastic, got everybody motivated, raised bunches of money, said Moses, who had been a patient of Andrew’s father, a physician.
President Bill Clinton chose Andrew to head the national party in 1999. The fifth Hoosier to lead the party organization, he was credited with dramatically improving its finances.
While pointing out he opposes what he calls Andrew’s very left-leaning positions, Allen County Republican Party Chairman Steve Shine said Andrew modernized and jump-started the national Democratic Party’s fundraising even though the GOP ran the U.S. House and Senate and had impeached the Democratic president.
It is less of a task to raise the kind of significant money that he did when your party is in power, Shine said.
After Al Gore’s defeat in the 2000 presidential election, Andrew resigned and joined a New York law firm to do regulatory legal work.
Andrew had bought a ticket on American Airlines Flight 77, the Los Angeles-bound plane that was hijacked after departing Washington and crashed into the Pentagon as part of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks there and in New York and Pennsylvania.
But in what he called one of those quirks of life, Andrew booked a later flight after an LA meeting was canceled.
Pressed for details, Andrew said: I try not to talk about it because it sounds as if I’m trying to get in on somebody else’s story. For me, I just switched planes.
Reporters recognized his name from the Flight 77 passenger list, and Andrew was in the news as a coincidental survivor of 9/11. He said he received hate mail from people.
I am merely one of many people who happened to have an experience like that on that day, he said, counting 30 people who had switched flights after booking seats aboard the four planes that crashed, killing nearly 3,000 people.
The New York law firm where Andrew worked was a block away from the World Trade Center and suffered damage, but no deaths, from falling debris.
We all know this happens all the time to us, he said of the flight switch. How many times when you drive in any given year are there moments you realize, Man, if I hadn’t just made that quick little turn I could be dead now.’ Right?
That happens to all of us, he said. It just happened to happen to me in this very overt way, in a much bigger way.
Obama and Clinton
Andrew made more news in 2008 when he withdrew his support for Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton and backed Barack Obama instead.
Like everything in life, it’s a more complex story than just one day I decided to agree I was going to switch, he said.
When Obama was an Illinois state senator running for the U.S. House in 2000, a race he would lose, his campaign volunteers included Andrew’s sister-in-law. When Obama sought a seat in the U.S. Senate in 2004, which he would win, he went to Andrew for advice.
I was very impressed with him. I did not say, He’s going to be president,’ Andrew recalled. I didn’t think he was going to win the nomination to be senator, let alone became the United States senator.
Obama gave the keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. He invited Andrew, the convention chairman, to sit with his family during his remarks.
Despite endorsing Clinton in late 2007, I was always torn about this because (Obama) was also somebody I know and liked a lot, Andrew said. And obviously as that campaign went on, I became totally mesmerized and impressed by him as well. So we ended up switching and working for him.
Shine predicted Andrew will have no future in a Clinton campaign or administration should she seek and win the presidency in 2016.
I think that certainly his political star will not only have faded if Hillary is the nominee, but it may be extinguished, Shine said.
Should the Clintons prevail in the primary or further than that, there will probably be no place for him in a Clinton campaign or in a Clinton presidency, Shine said.
Andrew responded in an email: Hillary Clinton has made clear she wants and needs everyone who supported Barack Obama to support her if she chooses to run. It shows a complete misunderstanding of Democratic politics to think that she is not inviting and encouraging Obama supporters to be involved in her potential campaign.
He added that his wife was an ambassador while Clinton was secretary of state and that most of the world sees them as being friends and cohorts, so it is only the misinformed that would even utter such a comment.
Anne Slaughter Andrew was ambassador to Costa Rica during Obama’s first term as president. While saying that their friendship with Obama did not hurt her chances, Andrew insisted Anne got the job on her own merits. As a teenager, she had worked in orphanages in Costa Rica and Guatemala. Anne graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service before becoming an environmental and energy lawyer. She had been head of an environmental group called CT4O – Clean Tech for Obama – and was counsel for the Nature Conservancy.
She had a pretty high profile herself, Andrew said.
The Andrews have two grown children: daughter Meredith, 20, is a student at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, and son Will, 19, is a student at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
The Andrews keep a house in Indianapolis, where Joe’s mother, Sylvia, and stepfather live. Andrew’s father, Jerald, a Fort Wayne physician who helped start the city’s EMS service, died in 2009. Joe Andrew’s parents divorced in the early 1970s, and he lived on the Poe farm with his mother and siblings.
The bookshelves and desktops in Andrew’s office at Dentons document his life in politics. There are photos of him with Obama, Bill Clinton, Bayh and the late Gov. Frank O’Bannon – as well as him with Muhammad Ali and former Polish President Lech Walesa.
On one shelf are a couple of Joe Andrew for Governor stickers. He sought the 2004 Democratic nomination before dropping out of the race in late 2003 when Joe Kernan reversed course and jumped in, weeks after O’Bannon’s death elevated Kernan from lieutenant governor to governor.
Andrew said he has no interest in returning to electoral politics, but he won’t rule it out. He stays in touch with Indiana Democratic officials and has praise for John Zody, the state party chairman.
Although Republicans have dominated Indiana elections for the past 10 years, Andrew is confident that Hoosier Democrats will again elect governors and legislative majorities. Indiana has been a classic swing state since at least the 1940s, he said.
These are pendulums; it will swing back, Andrew said. It’s always a question of how long (until) it shifts.
He appears more concerned about what’s next for Dentons. There are plans to expand to Latin America and Australia. And the firm has only 88 lawyers in Germany.
Andrew sees room to grow.