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Battle lines were drawn last week as the contenders for the Denton Wilde Sapte (DWS) chief executive post issued their election manifestos.
Head of competition Jonathan Tatten has emerged as an early frontrunner after vowing to address sliding profits, overhaul the partner compensation system and prime DWS for a potential merger.
The statement of intent came as the four contenders for the chief executive’s post – Tatten, financial institutions head Howard Morris, corporate partner Martin Kitchen and regulatory head Robert Finney – issued their election pledges to the partnership.
Voting papers are due by 14 December. Independent auditor Deloitte will oversee the count.
Robert Finney, head of regulation
The regulatory head proffered the most radical of the proposals, including completely scrapping the four-pronged sector strategy and getting tough on underperformers.
At the firm’s partnership conference in Wales last month, Finney expressed his anger about the firm’s financial performance and low morale. The regulatory head has not yet been widely tipped as a favourite, but for those who want to take the bitter pill, he may yet prove an attractive option.
Martin Kitchen, corporate partner and board member
With a much more concise document than those of his rivals, the former member of the consultation committee offered a one and a half-page statement. A close ally of chairman James Dallas, Kitchen stood down from the management consultation committee in September in order to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest when he stood for the chief executive’s post.
Partners have expressed concerns that he lacks management experience, although he already sits on DWS’s non-executive board.
Jonathan Tatten, head of competition
The former managing partner of Denton Hall, Tatten has a strong management pedigree and is rated for his statesmanship. His seven-page manifesto comes in the form of a three-year plan.
Tatten indicated he would continue with the sector strategy but vowed to overhaul partner remuneration. At present, the system features an arduous 10-year lockstep with a salaried partner band that can stretch to five years, ensuring the lockstep is among the longest in the City. He would also examine the discretionary bonus system, widely regarded as a divisive force and a tool of management control. He would also focus on profits and the issue of underperforming partners. Locating a suitable UK merger partner is another key plank in his bid.
Howard Morris, head of financial institutions
A highly popular candidate, Morris’s election mantra is similar to Tatten’s, but is widely regarded as less aggressive. One partner described Morris’s election platform as a “collective hug”. Some partners at the firm have been left wondering whether he is “too nice” to take tough decisions.