Timing right as Links’ new corporate chief is free to focus on client work
3 May 2010 | By Gavriel Hollander
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With the global networks in place, Jeremy Parr can get on with what he’s best at.
There is something of a tradition developing when it comes to Linklaters’ global corporate head; before David Barnes’ appointment to the top job in 2005, the previous two went on to become the firm’s senior partner. So Jeremy Parr’s smooth ascent to the role should bode well for his future.
But the job of corporate chief now is very different from the one that Barnes and his predecessors David Cheyne and Anthony Cann faced in the past.
Each of those five-year terms coincided with periods of immense change at Linklaters, which meant that the job was as much about managing logistical issues as it
was about building the team’s imposing list of clients.
Barnes agrees that the decade or more of ructions at Linklaters and the wider world beyond meant that his job was as much about troubleshooting as anything else.
“Going back five years ago we were still pulling together the mergers we did and developing the international practice,” he says. “You have to pinch yourself at times to think how much more global markets are now than then.”
But despite all the changes to the practice, starting with the launch of its European alliances in the late 1990s through to last year’s New World restructuring exercise, Linklaters has never been a firm that wants to take its managers away from their clients.
For a man such as Parr, for whom client work is the sine qua non of being a lawyer, that will come as something of a relief.
“I cannot see him giving up his client work,” says one former colleague. “It’s a good time for him to be taking over as things can only go up in terms of work.”
Parr made people sit up and take notice as a junior partner in 2001 when advising NatWest on its successful defence against a takeover bid by Bank of Scotland and its subsequent takeover by RBS. The banking sector is still his most fertile transactional turf with more recent mandates including acting for Lloyds TSB on its acquisition of HBOS and for Merrill Lynch when it was bought by Bank of America.
Such relationships, partic-ularly that with Lloyds, are not easy to give up and there is no suggestion that Parr will do so.
In a sense, Parr’s appointment is a horses for courses measure. A renowned dealmaker, he would not have been happy managing the sort of changes that have dominated much of the past 15 years. By the same token, Barnes - described by one insider as “more understated” - was undoubtedly the better man to have his hand on the tiller through the back-end of the firm’s international merger phase and last year’s redundancy programme.
“He’s that bit younger than the last three corporate heads and he’s very much a client man,” says another partner who knows Parr well. The last two or three heads have had a big job in building the global network and that’s done now, so it’ll give him a lot more scope to do client work.”
One of the firm’s current crop of corporate partners agrees that the timing is perfect for Parr to take over.
“Getting someone new in is good because it brings in a breath of fresh air,” he says. “There’s no doubt he’ll come and bring his own style to it. He’s very smooth when you meet him and has a lot of charm, but there’s a hard man inside. He’s good at getting people to do things.”
It is the description of both a good dealmaker and a good manager. But it is somewhat different from that projected by his predecessor.
“Barnes is very consensus-driven,” says the former colleague. “He was a firm hand on the rudder. He inherited [the job] at both a good time and a bad time and he made changes to the department that helped them get through the bad times.”
Another insider echoes the sentiment: “Barnesy was really well-liked - he dealt with lots of difficult issues and he has the respect because he did the difficult things.”
The unspoken addendum is that perhaps Parr is more the man to take Linklaters beyond those difficult times, as client focus becomes the order of the day.
“He really does want to emphasise the client relationship side and I support that,” says Barnes of his successor. “Clients are the lifeblood of the firm and management can quickly lose sight of that. All of us, except maybe the managing partner, should stay closely involved with our clients.”
However, the truth is that any changes to the corporate team will be subtle ones. The practice is still ahead of its magic circle competitors even in a declining market and has its fair share of rainmakers. So anyone taking over the reins must first and foremost have the respect of this rather intimidating peer group. Not a problem for Parr, according to another former Linklaters corporate partner.
“He’s got the pulse of the guys who drive the business and that’s important,” he says. “The firm doesn’t go for big change driven by individuals.”
So there may not be any headline-making changes in the post, but given the career path of his predecessors, Parr’s stint could be the sign of even bigger things to come.
Jeremy parr: The inside track
“He really does want to emphasise the client relationship side and I support that. Clients are the lifeblood of the firm and management can quickly lose sight of that.”
David Barnes, Linklaters
“He’s got the pulse of the guys who drive the business and that’s important. The firm doesn’t go for big change driven by individuals.”
“Getting someone new in is good because it brings in a breath of fresh air. He’ll bring his own style to it.”
“He’s very smooth and has a lot of charm, but there’s a hard man inside. He’s good at getting people to do things.”