LQ Ammon Has Miller Johnson Reins

March 6, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Becoming the head of an organization often means having moved from job to job, struggling forward, always looking for the next step up. For Jeffrey Ammon, it meant staying in the same place for 27 years.

At the beginning of the year, Ammon took over responsibilities as managing partner at the law firm of Miller Johnson, where he has worked since graduating from University of Michigan Law School in 1978. Although the promotion does mean a new level of responsibility, Ammon pointed out that it’s not quite the same as becoming the president or CEO of a typical company.

“Law firms are flat organizations. There are no pyramids here,” he said. As such, he expects to guide the firm, but not to give a lot of orders. “Lawyers don’t operate by edict.”

Of course, the role as managing partner (or managing member, as the firm prefers) is not simply a titular change. Ammon said that Miller Johnson is always looking at ways to improve its customer service, its marketing, its technology, and even its role as an employer.

As a career-long employee of Miller Johnson, Ammon admits that he doesn’t have any personal frame of reference to make the claim, but he maintains that the firm offers one of the more laid-back, enjoyable settings to practice law in West Michigan

“We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” he said. That was part of the attraction for him when he joined the firm. Some of his U-M classmates said he was “wasting his Michigan law degree” by coming to Grand Rapids, which was not viewed as a particularly cool place at the time.

“They looked at me like I was on drugs,” he said.

What Grand Rapids did offer, he contended, was a beautiful setting, quick access to Lake Michigan, and, perhaps most importantly, an understanding about the balance between work and family life.

“I’ve always said that dinner is best served before and at home,” he said.

Over his nearly three decades with the firm, Ammon has come to specialize in a number of business-related practice areas, with a particular emphasis on economic development incentives. He combines expertise in business and property taxation, real estate, government incentives, and finance to advise clients on expansion and relocation projects in West Michigan totaling in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

His expertise on economic development matters extends beyond counseling clients. He speaks and writes extensively on the legal aspects of economic development. He has taught tax seminars for the Michigan Chamber for over 15 years. This year he did double duty at the chamber’s Michigan tax conference, teaching a session on economic development incentives and a session on business property taxes.

Taking on his responsibilities as managing member at Miller Johnson will curtail some of his client work. Although he is reluctant to give that up, he is excited about some of the other opportunities the new role will offer. He would like to focus the firm’s expertise and practice areas to meet some up-and-coming markets, including the so-called “knowledge-based economy,” Michigan’s investment in life sciences research, e-commerce law, and issues relating to immigration.

“I have some vision,” he said. “Now we’re going to do some strategic thinking.”     LQ

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