Hangin’ Tough with Emory Law Prof, Ex-Holiday Inn Counsel
“I tell my students they give me longevity,” says Professor Mort Aronson, center, with some of his Emory Law students who come from all over the world. I, Editor-in-Chief Beth Ewen. was invited to speak to the class Oct. 24, and distributed copies of Franchise Times for a rousing franchise trivia contest.
Third-year law students at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta filed into Mort Aronson’s class this week on a late Wednesday afternoon, as they have every fall semester for the past 24 years.
How ya doing, the 83-year-old Aronson will say to this student or that. “Hangin’ tough,”each replies with a grin. And why is that? “Because tough times don’t last but tough people do,” each will say, repeating one of Aronson’s favorite phrases and showing the sweet rapport he creates with his 25 franchise law students from all over the world.
Aronson was general counsel for Holiday Inn (before it became IHG), working for the brand for 25 years until 2003 when he was 68 years old. “I took Saturday off and then Sunday I went in to Kilpatrick,” the law firm now called Kilpatrick Townsend in Atlanta with a robust franchise practice headed then and now by Rupert Barkoff.
He said his greatest honor at Holiday Inn was when franchisees named him an honorary member of their franchisee advisory counsel, a rare designation for a general counsel whose job it is to advocate for the franchisor. “I always did my best to be fair, even if being fair meant the top CEO disagreed,” he said to explain why they bestowed the honor. “It was a wonderful tour of duty and I loved every minute of it,” he added.
He kept practicing law until two years ago, when he was 81, but then stopped because he wanted to spend more time with his six grandkids and his wife of 58 years, Ellen.
Why so long? “I love my work. I tell my students, the vast majority of you will spend most of your life at work. If you don’t like your work you don’t like your life,” he says.
Aronson fell down 30 marble steps a few years ago while at the Waldorf Astoria in Israel, and underwent a 7 ½-hour surgery that saved his leg but left him with a distinct limp and a slow walking pace. He works out six days a week, he says, to build his strength and boost his endorphins. “I’m an exercise freak with the emphasis on the last word.”
Aronson believes his is the longest-running franchise law class in the U.S., and he imparts real-world tales about franchising along with the legal concepts. He also passes on moral lessons throughout each lecture. “You can lose money in this world and you can get it back,” he says, “but when you lose your integrity you don’t get it back.”
He feels his students keep him going. “I tell my students they give me longevity. When I can share my knowledge with smart, energetic young people from all over the world, my ideas live on.”
In other words, how is this former general counsel, franchise legal expert and long-time professor doing? He’s hangin’tough.