Ashurst managing partner James Collis has revealed he will step down from the top job when his term ends in May, with the firm launching a search for his successor this week.
Collis will return to Ashurst’s finance practice having completed a four-year term as managing partner. He was appointed to the position in March 2012, replacing Simon Bromwich who had served in the role since 2004.
Collis was the firm’s the first non-London based partner to be appointed as managing partner, relocating from Paris for the role.
“I came into the managing partner job when I was 41 and I hope I’ve got a few more runs to go as a lawyer,” Collis told The Lawyer. “If I was to stay away from finance for too long, it would make that return all the more difficult.”
His decision prompts a search for his successor to take on the position from May 2016 for a four year term. The next managing partner will be tasked with the global running of the firm, acting alongside chairman Ben Tidswell who handles governance, clients and pastoral care.
Ashurst’s chairman is elected, but the managing partner will be appointed by the firm’s board, which is made up of members including vice chairman Mary Padbury, finance partner Mark Vickers, Madrid real estate partner Cristina Calvo, Sydney corporate partner Roger Davies and CFO Brian Dunlop.
“The board makes the decision on who will run the firm operationally on a day-to-day basis,” Tidswell explained. “We’ll hold regional and practice-led forums with partners over the next few weeks and listen to their views on what we need to be thinking about when we appoint a new managing partner.”
A number of Ashurst partners said it was too early to guess who might want to take on the role, but admitted that those in a senior leadership role, such as corporate co-head Simon Beddow, would be “the obvious choice”.
“Beddow ran Frankfurt for three years and he was all ready to resign to go to Ropes & Gray, but Ashurst then offered him a management role,” said a source. “He’s obviously keen to be in a management position.”
Other heads of department include real estate head Richard Vernon who “is very well-liked” at the firm, though client partner Logan Mair and real estate investment head David Jones were described as being too close to client work to take on the responsibilities of managing partner.
“Last time round, the board asked David Jones [real estate investment team head] to do it, but I can’t see him wanting the job as he’s too client-facing,” said a source. “Similarly Mark Elsey [energy and infrastructure head] is too valuable to the infrastructure team, as that is such a major part of Ashurst’s strategy now.”
Tidswell described the managing partner as effectively serving as the CEO of Ashurst’s global business, which saw turnover drop by nearly 4 per cent last year to £561m. A number of sources suggested the firm may go for an external candidate in a bid to boost finances.
“Ashurst has got more global in the past few years and the world has moved on,” said a source. “An external candidate could be someone who has served in a leadership position at a bank or management consultancy for instance, who can bring something else to the role.”
Another source said the increasing importance of Ashurst’s global strategy meant the firm could “look at someone with more of an Asia-Pacific focus”.
Ashurst’s fee-earner headcount increased by almost 75 per cent in 2013 after the firm’s tie-up with Australian firm Blake Dawson in 2013.
“We’re looking for someone with strong leadership, communication and analytical qualities,” said Tidswell. “It also has to be someone with potential, who’ll be able to grow into the position. They need to have an appetite for innovation and looking into new business models, and they need to be prepared to take lots of different risks.”
Tidswell added the board will appoint a new managing partner within the next few months, to “ensure they are comfortably in place by May”. Tidswell is currently serving a five-year term that ends in 2018, although the term will be reduced to four years after that.