Like many other professionals whose career niche snuck up on them, C. Christopher Muth thought coming to work for Greenebaum, Doll & McDonald in 1980 would be a short-term affair.

Flash forward to March 2007, when Muth ascended to member-in-charge of the law firm’s Cincinnati office. “I thought we’d be here for a few years, but it’s been a few more than I thought,” he says with a smile. “This is a great community.”

Muth took the helm of a Greenebaum office that has grown steadily and has held its own against the city’s more established law firms, growing its areas of specialization and encouraging its attorneys to dive into community involvement. Greenebaum now claims to be the leading law firm in Northern Kentucky (see related story).
“This is a growth area for us,” Muth remarks, and the numbers back him up.

Founded in 1952 in Louisville, Greenebaum opened its office for Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky in 1990. Within eight years the firm had to move into new, expanded space, and now has 73 employees here, including 37 attorneys. Intellectual property, corporate litigation and estate planning are among the specialties in which the firm has flourished, Muth notes.

Now with seven offices in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Washington, Greenebaum pools its resources to offer comprehensive services for its clients, he says.

Muth’s legal specialties are in the corporate and commercial areas, including mergers and acquisitions, along with structuring and negotiating economic development incentive agreements for business clients.
 
GLOBAL REACH

Though the firm’s offices are concentrated in the Midwest and Southeast, its business has spread globally. In Kentucky, Greenebaum represents 70 percent of Japanese-owned companies there, including Toyota.
Greenebaum also is riding a wave of Chinese investment in Midwestern manufacturing. The billions of dollars U.S. manufacturers have poured into Chinese industry are beginning to be reinvested by newly wealthy Chinese businesses in Midwestern manufacturing. Where Japanese investment has generally concentrated in East Coast financial services, Chinese manufacturers recognize a kindred spirit in the Midwest’s industrial base, Muth observes.

“And we’re not just talking the talk,” he adds, pointing to Greenebaum’s partners in Shanghai and other Chinese cities who are working with American and Chinese businesses.
 
LOCAL VALUES

As much as he’s excited about international possibilities, Muth’s attention isn’t diverted from what’s important here at home Greenebaum and its new local managing executive share a common theme: Cincinnati roots that don’t run quite as deep as the most entrenched individuals and firms. Although he’s a Chicago native, Muth isn’t a stranger here, having earned his accounting degree at the University of Cincinnati.
“My dad grew up here, and I know Cincinnati can be provincial. It’s not easy to break into the community,” he admits.

Muth and his family live in Indian Hill and were drawn to Cincinnati’s family-friendly culture. “It may sound corny, but our family is very close,” he says, with emotion welling in his voice. “I owe a lot of what I have achieved to my wife,” whom he married 28 years ago. The Muths are especially proud of their 21-year-old son, who is entering the U.S. Marines’ officers training program.

On the business side, Muth says the answer to the challenge of fitting into the Tristate’s business culture is exemplary work, along with diving into the great local institutions and creating new ones, which Greenebaum encourages.

“People here are pretty energetic and really want to be out there doing things in the community,” he explains.
It's customary in Cincinnati for executives to talk more about the accomplishments of their colleagues than their own, a characteristic Muth displays as he eagerly identifies the community activities of Greenebaum teammates. Kevin Ghassomian is the youngest member of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber. He and W. Ashley Hess were founders of the Bacchanalian Society, a popular wine tasting group for young professionals that raises money for charities.

Muth notes that Mikio Nishizu, a native Japanese who handles accounts with Japanese companies, is a board member of the Japan-America Society of Greater Cincinnati. Andrew Schaeffer, a member in the Covington office, is board chairman of Vision 2015, the strategic planning group for Northern Kentucky. Shanda Spurlock is a member of the Tri-County Economic Development Corp., which recruits and retains Northern Kentucky businesses.

Another Greater Cincinnati tradition Republican-dominated law firms, with close political connections to the local and state GOP organizations. The dramatically changed political landscape in Ohio, which saw control of most state offices and a senate seat move to the Democratic party last year, was taken in stride by Greenebaum, says Jeffrey A. McKenzie, the firm’s new chairman and CEO.

“We’re fairly ecumenical. We don’t stay on one side of the aisle,” McKenzie says. “Our answer (to the power shift) was we’re just good lawyers.”

Though the firm is growing locally, the game plan won’t change, McKenzie adds. “We will not lose our focus.” To which Muth adds, “I think we’re going to continue emphasizing our strategic areas of expertise.”