Banking status elevated as Links votes in Elliott
9 May 2011 | By Gavriel Hollander
27 February 2014
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The election of global head of banking Robert Elliott as senior partner at Linklaters represents the apotheosis of a practice that once played second fiddle to the firm’s corporate base.
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Elliott saw off challenges from litigation chief John Turnbull and European managing partner Jean-Pierre Blumberg to land a job for which he first put his hat in the ring in 2006. That time round he lost out to then head of corporate David Cheyne, but the outgoing senior partner believes that the latest result is a sign that the banking practice has come of age.
“It’s been one of our great success stories,” says Cheyne. “When Robert joined there weren’t very many partners. [Elliott’s election] is indicative of the development of the firm, and that’s a good thing.”
Elliott arrived in 1990 from Wilde Sapte’s stellar banking practice. The firm has since been subsumed into transatlantic firm SNR Denton via a series of mergers, but many of the people who helped build the banking team’s reputation now find themselves among the Silk Street partnership.
Banking partners David Ereira, Brian Gray, Bruce Bell, Phil Spittal, Nick Syson and most recently Chris Howard have all joined the firm having learnt their trade at Wilde Sapte.
Elliott says the days when there was competition between Linklaters’ corporate and finance arms are over.
“The firm isn’t like that anymore,” he states. “The election wasn’t about one tribe being represented - everyone was happy to have a proper vote.”
The presence of international candidate Blumberg for the senior partner role highlighted the increasing need to look beyond these shores over the course of Elliott’s five-year term.
Blumberg won over a number of City partners who previously knew little of the Belgian, and it is thought that he might have another run at the job in 2016.
His impressive performance outlined some of the problems inherent in any firm that has moved from being a local to a global player, shining a light on an international strategy that Elliott admits is not yet fully formed.
“We have a great platform in Asia but it needs further building up,” Elliott admits. “The global model as a whole is pretty well-built but it’s not fully built out yet and the key is how we do that to track the shift away from the West and more towards the East and South.
“We’ve been much more conservative for example in the Middle East than our competitor firms. To some degree that reflects the approach of the firm as a whole.”
But it is unlikely that there will be any significant change in direction once Elliott succeeds Cheyne. Instead, Elliott emphasised throughout his campaign the importance of not becoming complacent when it comes to client relationships.
Cheyne, who has yet to reveal his own plans once he stands down from the senior partner role on 1 October, is unlikely to return to fee-earning.
He is thought to have suffered some internal criticism for his handling of the relationship with BP when Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer won a surprise injunction to defend the oil giant against hostile takeovers in the wake of last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
While the BP relationship has passed in the main to head of corporate Jeremy Parr and corporate partner Lee Taylor, the incident provided a wake-up call that the management needs to stay focused on its clients.
For his part, Elliott insists that he will continue acting for his clients, which include RBS, after he moves into his new role in the autumn.
“The emphasis on external focus and on our client relationships is absolutely key,” he stresses. “We have constant threats to our existing clients and we’re not going to take any relationship for granted. That’s a key plank of how the firm will operate over the next five years.”