Bankruptcy: Rick Rayburn

By Laura Williams-Tracy

Ask Rick Rayburn to talk about his legal career and he redirects the conversation to a discussion of the 2006 U.S. House of Representatives race. When he walks into his office and the receptionist asks about his weekend, he deftly turns the conversation back to her new puppy, whose name he remembers.

With his square jaw and brown hair he looks a bit like the late televi-sion newscaster Peter Jennings, and he has the same knack for keeping the spotlight off himself. Rayburn grew up in Columbia, Tenn., not far from Nashville. His father was 41 when Rayburn was born. He had built an ice business in Detroit, which he had lost during the Depression, and taken a job delivering packages for the post office in Tennessee.

In college, Rayburn majored in physics and minored in economics. But by the time he graduated, he cared more about economics. Still, he took a job in Nashville for two years as an engineer for Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont at a plant that made carpet fabric. “I was not fulfilled keeping some huge machine going.”

To find fulfillment, he set out to take the aptitude tests for business, law and medical schools. He did well on the first one, the law-school aptitude test, and suddenly business and medicine took a back seat. After law school at Duke University, he came to Charlotte in 1974 to work for a predecessor to today’s Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson. He left eight years later to build his own smaller firm, now with 15 lawyers. “I’m a business lawyer who just happens to do bankruptcy. I view it as one way of solving business problems when it can’t be done other ways.”

Half his practice is negotiating with creditors, which sometimes results in filing for bankruptcy protection. The other half is business litigation, such as when companies are buying or selling, refinancing or terminating their CEO. “I like what I do because it’s a constant intellectual challenge. There’s no Step 1, Step 2 approach.”

Clients come from industries as varied as textiles, real estate and airlines. Among recent cases was the bankruptcy filing and subsequent sale of Greensboro-based mobile-home builder Oakwood Homes. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in November 2002, and for 17 months “Rick lived and breathed our case,” says Myles Standish, former Oakwood CEO. “Any time, day or night, weekend or holiday, it didn’t matter. He cared about getting the right result.”

Standish, who owns a manufactured-housing company in Boise, Idaho, and is a former lawyer, says Rayburn understood the fundamentals of the business. Oakwood emerged from bankruptcy a stronger company ready to survive, he says, but a buyout offer from competitor Clayton Homes appealed to shareholders.

Rayburn also has tried to get the right results for young baseball players, including his own three sons, and built the region’s largest youth soccer league. When he became president of Charlotte Junior Soccer Foundation 14 years ago, it had dwindling membership and few places to play. Rayburn reorganized its finances, got the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department to refurbish the fields and give the league priority use and found team sponsors. Says fellow Charlotte lawyer and soccer dad Alan Singer: “He got us on solid ground financially.”