Tom Harrold has not only picked up 2.3 million frequent flyer miles during his travels, he’s also become friends with Helmut and Mikhail
Published in 2005 Georgia Super Lawyers magazine
on February 21, 2005
Updated on February 14, 2017
The afternoon sun streams through the office window in the gleaming midtown high-rise. The decor is sleek, stylish, professional — clearly the home of someone who’s no stranger to success. As expected, the man behind the desk fits that description. He has a thriving practice and is well regarded in his profession. But he just can’t stop bragging — about his daughter.
“She’s my pride and joy. Graduated summa cum laude from Dartmouth. Went to Yale medical school and is now working in the cardiovascular field at Columbia.” Dr. Elizabeth Harrold Ratchford’s father beams with pride as he steps around to show family photos on the bookshelf. Handing over a silver frame, he says, “She’s really made a success of herself.”
It must be proof of the apple falling not far from the tree theory. In fact, Thomas J. Harrold Jr. enjoys success his daughter would be wise to emulate. But the international business transaction lawyer with Miller & Martin just considers himself an adequate attorney and ambassador for the state he loves.
This is a man with a well-worn passport. He has a wide-reaching global practice, with clients in South and Central America, Europe and Asia. Through the years he’s crisscrossed the globe, traveling to 47 different countries. Flight attendants have memorized his drink preferences.
Working with both foreign and domestic companies, Harrold helps them navigate the sea of international tax laws and regulations to set up and operate manufacturing and distribution facilities and take advantage of tax incentives. He’s brought foreign companies into Georgia that contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy. He’s also one of the founders and the former president of the World Law Group, a well-respected international network of lawyers. Not too shabby for a guy from the small town of Winterville, Georgia.
He may enjoy an international platform today, but Harrold’s early career gave no hint of the 2.3 million frequent flyer miles he now has. He graduated from Columbia University and attended law school at the University of Georgia. During a summer vacation, he served an internship in Washington, D.C. Another now-well-known face was there at the time. “Tom and I met when I was Congressman Charles Weltner’s chief of staff and he was an intern in the office,” says Wyche Fowler, former ambassador to Saudi Arabia and a longtime friend. “Those were interesting times. It probably led him in a different direction, but a very successful one.”
During that internship, Harrold became acquainted with Dean Rusk, who was serving his last year as secretary of state. One day Harrold impulsively asked Rusk to speak at UGA’s Law Day ceremonies. To his surprise, Rusk accepted. And at the Law Day dinner, Rusk also got an offer to teach at the law school, which he accepted.
Harrold became a frequent visitor to Rusk’s office. “I loved to listen to him talk,” he recalls. “He was just a consummate gentlemen and so eloquent. He’d tell stories of Brezhnev, Kosygin and all the events that happened while he was in the State Department. I remember thinking how much I’d like to do something like that.”
Maybe due to Rusk’s influence, or perhaps simply youthful bravado, Harrold decided to take a shot at elected office, running for the 10th District Congressional seat in 1976. “I was in my early 30s, had no business at all running for public office,” he laughs now. “Of course I lost, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.”
In 1976, Georgia was still an unassuming state, home to a peanut farmer who would soon be president. “It’s hard to imagine now, but at that time we had no international flights, no international banks and very few companies with a foreign parent company,” he recalls.
Shortly after his unsuccessful congressional race, Harrold received a call from then-Georgia governor George Busbee. Nick Chilivis, commissioner of the state revenue department, needed a deputy commissioner. Harrold’s broad knowledge of tax matters garnered him an invitation to the post.
During his years in office, Governor Busbee placed a high priority on bringing foreign businesses into the state. “Busbee loved international stuff,” remembers Harrold. “When I came to the revenue department, he’d agreed to let me work on some of the international deals with him. Those were great fun.”
Once the FAA approved Hartsfield Airport for international flights, foreign visitors and investors began streaming into town. International banks came right along with them. The figures were impressive. In 1975 Georgia had only 175 foreign businesses, but by 1982 that number had increased to 680.
However, a few years in government proved to be enough for Harrold. He made a bold change of direction when he left the revenue department in 1978. Atlanta’s international market was clearly wide open, but local legal specialists were scarce. “There were very few lawyers in Atlanta doing international law at that time — not that any of us really knew what that term meant,” he says. “So, like Napoleon, I decided to crown myself and became an international lawyer.” It turned out to be a shrewd move. Companies such as Sony, Hitachi and Suzuki who brought lawyers in from New York or Washington, D.C., soon had opportunities to retain local representation.
The international travel is a welcome bonus to his work, says Harrold. He has an insatiable curiosity for learning about other cultures and eagerly shares stories of his travel. “The U.S. has only 2 percent of the world population,” he says. “There’s a huge world out there that most Americans never get to see. But I was determined to experience it.” Children, too, ought to be exposed to travel if possible, he says earnestly. “You know, my daughter was able to go to Germany when she was 5 years old. We went to language school together — but she was the real star — speaks fluent German, French and now Spanish.”
There’s an engaging affability about Harrold, without even the slightest hint of pretentiousness. He laughs loud and often, many times at himself. And this might even be one of the secrets to his success. Intellect, tenacity and hard work certainly can’t be underestimated, but plain, old-fashioned Southern charm, grace and wit go a long way. Some say Harrold’s smart enough to realize that levity in the right place is a distinct business advantage. “With Tom’s humor, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel even in difficult situations,” says Gerald Singham, current president of the World Law Group. “He can disarm you, even on tough issues, and still make you feel very comfortable.”
In Harrold’s world, there is clearly no line of demarcation between clients and friends. “Tom makes you feel like not just a customer, but a friend,” says James Dockter, CEO of PBD, Inc., who was referred to Harrold many years ago. “He has gone out of his way doing things not asked of him for my family, not as an attorney, but simply for kindness.” Dockter points to the time he took his wife on a birthday trip to Washington, D.C. Harrold made some calls and arranged for a personally escorted tour of the White House. “He took the time to do it himself, and that meant a lot,” he says.
Anyone with a career spent flying all over the world can find himself in unusual places at unexpected times. In Iraq one week before the Kuwaiti invasion, Harrold was attempting to collect a client’s letters of credit. The company he visited had purportedly bought the client’s equipment to smelt copper wire. Looking for the bathroom door, Harrold stumbled across what they were actually smelting: artillery shells.
On his return home he told associates an invasion was imminent. Yeah, sure, was the answer. A few days later his instinct was proven right.
Another event reminded Harrold just how far he’d come. “We were suing the Iranian government,” he says. “On a snowy January day, I walked down the walkway of the International Hall of Justice in The Hague and thought, ‘Man, this is a long way from Winterville.’”
An innovator, Harrold is creative in solving problems. Long ago he recognized the valuable expertise a network of international lawyers would provide. With several others, he eventually founded the World Law Group, which now has more than 50 participating law firms in more than 39 countries. President of the group from 1995 to 1997, he remains an active and valued member. “Tom is a leader,” says Singham. “He’s very much a visionary, and also one of the most valuable members in terms of good, solid advice.”
One of the highlights of Harrold’s career was putting together the Unification Conference, held in Atlanta on October 3, 2003 — Germany’s Unity Day. Reuniting former president George Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev and Helmut Kohl, the historic conference gave the men an opportunity to reflect and discuss current world issues.
But tracking them down and getting an agreement to appear wasn’t easy. Neither was snagging Tom Brokaw to emcee. But it was necessary. “George Bush said he wouldn’t come if we got Dan Rather,” laughs Harrold.
At 60, Harrold faces the inevitable retirement question. When asked what’s ahead, he pauses. “I don’t know,” he answers candidly. “I’d like to have another mountain to climb. But I work with good people and they’ve trusted me to take a chance and do things I enjoy. I won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, I’m sure. I like to keep up with the international business landscape too much.”
Whatever he may eventually choose, it’s certain that civic duty and service will be a part of it. In fact, when speaking of Harrold, his friend Jim Dockter wants to make sure his commitment to work, friends and family is clear. There is, of course, Harrold’s long and solid marriage to his wife, Connie. Then, as an afterthought, Dockter asks, “And did he tell you about his daughter?”