Detroit — Kevyn D. Orr said he's up for the challenge. And he's under no illusions: Fixing Detroit will be one.
The city's new emergency manager said he's leaving a "relatively comfortable existence" and has resigned as a partner of the Jones Day law firm in Washington, D.C., to tackle the biggest restructuring of his 30-year career.
"If we can do this, I will have participated in one of the greatest turnarounds in the history of this country," said Orr, 54, a father of two who lives in Maryland. "That is something I can tell my grandkids about someday."
He was introduced to the media Thursday by Gov. Rick Snyder and immediately sought to establish his Michigan bona fides. Orr earned his bachelor's and law degrees from the University of Michigan, vacationed on the Leelanau Peninsula and Mackinac Island, learned to ski at Mt. Brighton and said he's "trying to get my hands on one of those Vipers," a Dodge sports car that sells for about $100,000.
After leaving law school in 1983, Orr made a career of restructuring corporations and leading them through bankruptcy. A partner in Jones Day since 2001, Orr last year was named one of D.C.'s top bankruptcy attorneys by Washingtonian Magazine.
He grew up in southern Florida and planned to move to Miami and open an office for Jones Day. Then he met Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Gov. Rick Snyder about the emergency manager job — and Snyder remembered where he first met Orr. The two participated in massive snowball fights while they were students at U-M.
Orr hesitated. His wife told him: "This is your call to action, put up or shut up." He consulted a colleague who said "sometimes there's a call to action you have to answer."
Orr said he was sold.
"There are men and women in harm's way on our behalf around this world. There are individuals who throw themselves on grenades to save their comrades," Orr told reporters Thursday.
"I'm asked to come into a civil city, sit in an air-conditioned office and restructure a balance sheet. How can I say 'no'?"
Former colleague Alan Fein told The Detroit News this week that Orr is uniquely positioned for the job.
"He's got a big personality and no enemies," said Fein, a shareholder in a Miami firm where Orr got his start.
Orr told reporters he knows he may not be popular. There will be naysayers. But Detroit is a "storied city" primed for a comeback, he said.
"As Detroit's motto says: We can rise from the ashes," Orr said.