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William, can you give us a quick overview of your career and current role at KWM?
Having studied economics at university I chose law as a career, as I thought it would play better to my strengths in terms of words rather than numbers.
I qualified in 1995 and joined legacy Bond Pearce, known as Bond Dickinson. Two and half years later I joined legacy SJ Berwin, known as King & Wood Mallesons, and was made up to partner in the Real Estate Division in 2005. I have been at the firm almost 18 years and have seen it go through many exciting changes.
Before I was elected Managing Partner in January 2015 I was co-head of the Real Estate Group for one year.
I continue to work very closely with some of the firm’s biggest clients such as Marks & Spencer, The Crown Estates and Battersea Power Station. I also played an integral role in the firm’s appointment by SuperGroup to advise on all its continental European real estate matters.
You took over as managing partner for EMEA four months ago. How has it been so far?
Although I have only been in post for a few months, and am a relative new comer to the senior management game, I previously had a lot of experience running a large and successful practice group so I had a good understanding of what I was in for.
For me the role is about focusing on our people so that we continue to attract, retain and develop excellent talent. It is about delivering the very best client service delivery and client innovation – putting the client at the centre of everything we do – and managing our business by working with the executive management team to deliver a robust and well-oiled machine.
So far in the journey it has been a big learning curve but the achievements have been incredibly rewarding. I have the full support of the partnership as well as a strong team around me, and I believe we are making some fantastic steps forward within the business.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
I have and will continue to take some difficult decisions in order to drive our business forward. Bringing all the owners of the business along with me is a challenging balancing act. Being the managing partner in a law firm isn’t like running a corporation – I must balance the need to consult with my fellow partners and the ultimate goal to deliver a successful and profitable business.
Furthermore, being part of a global firm, and transitioning from being a local practitioner to a global leader, also brings with it a unique set of challenges. Balancing the priorities of the global firm with that of our European and Middle East practice is something I practice daily. It is critical that each region has the right management team leading the businesses and I work very closely with the management teams in each of our regional offices to ensure we work towards common goals and reach our aspirations.
And on the flip side, what are the most enjoyable aspects of the job?
This is a hugely exciting time for our business as we look to capitalise on our potential as a global player with a unique difference and perspective. I am honoured to work with excellent people right across the business and build a strong firm with exceptional talent and top flight clients. By combining our passion and skills with that of our clients we will be able to achieve great things.
The firm employs 2,700 lawyers including more than 550 partners across 30 locations. How closely do the offices work together?
We have a strong management team which covers all practice areas within our 10 offices in Europe and the Middle East. Collaboration and teamwork helps us deliver great and consistent results for clients across borders and despite the far-reaching positioning of our offices, we meeting regularly to discuss business critical issues and the ways to deliver real value for our clients and our people. Just recently we had a series of away days bringing together the departmental heads and their management teams to set our business priorities and action plans.
We also work closely with our global colleagues and have set up global client and practice groups, meet regularly as a global management team and are putting in significant effort into our global partners conference in Shanghai.
Our global secondment programme – the “100 person plan” – is also a key way for us to achieve collaboration between our offices – improving integration and the flow of work. Referrals flow around all parts of the network and for the third quarter in 2014, the total number of new matters that were a result of joint work or referred work represented a 200% increase compared to the same period in 2013.
You are the only firm in the world that is able to practise PRC, Australian, Hong Kong, English, US and a significant range of European laws as an integrated global law firm brand. How important is that to the business?
The legal industry has seen a number of different models emerge, but at King & Wood Mallesons, we have carved out a very different strategic path from our competitors. Rather than competing with the international firms entering an already crowded market, we have created something truly unique.
As a new choice of law firm, we have a fantastic global business and an opportunity to utilise our strength, depth and genuine capability in Asia as well as our market leading capabilities in Europe and the Middle East to ensure we continue to grow and develop as a business.
What sectors and territories do you think will drive the firm’s growth & expansion over the coming years?
I believe we are uniquely placed to deliver in each of the key financial centres that we are in, and to capitalise on a global economy with a shifting focus to the East.
London will remain a key priority as a significant financial centre. Given the amount of change within Europe and the Middle East, this will continue to drive our priorities for our business locally.
We have reorganised our focus around eight key sectors with Private Equity, Real Estate and Energy & Infrastructure remaining top priority. Other sector priorities include TMT, Financial Institutions, Consumer and Life Sciences and Health Care.
Our partner growth strategy has been focused on building the strength and depth of our business and the firm’s regional and global capabilities. Over the course of the last financial year, we made 15 partner hires across our region, all of whom have made a significant and immediate impact to our business. Our new hires are dynamic partners, who have joined with Real Estate, Litigation, Commerce & Technology, Energy & Infrastructure, Finance and Employment expertise, here in Europe, and they fit perfectly into our strategic objectives as a firm. We are also actively building on our corporate capabilities to help us delivery our vision.
What’s the overall vision and where does the firm want to be in 10 years’ time?
It is always difficult to predict 10 years on but I can say we have a distinct advantage to capitalise on our strong global platform and the quality of our lawyers and clients. Our vision is to be a to be: “a top tier corporate centred multi-disciplinary practice, whilst being the firm of choice in Europe and the Middle East for work that has an Asian dimension” and I believe we will deliver on that.
Can you sum up KWM in five words?
Quality people. Deep client relationships.
On a more personal note, have you got any career goals that you still want to achieve?
As I am only five months in to the role as MP, my goal is to make a success of it.