FIRM PROFILE: Robert Muckle

A management reshuffle has given Robert Muckle a new lease of life

At the beginning of April 2002, following an uncontested vote, Ian Gilthorpe, the former managing partner of Newcastle-based Robert Muckle and senior partner Hugh Welch swapped roles (The Lawyer, 18 March). Gilthorpe, now senior partner, has also become business development partner, a responsibility that was formerly part of the managing partner's remit.
“Hugh's getting very stuck in. I'd been managing partner since 1985, so it's time for a change,” says Gilthorpe. “It's given me a new focus.” The pair have worked closely together since Welch joined the firm in 1985 and there appears to be no animosity.
“If you don't have accountability, then you can't perform as an organisation,” says Gilthorpe. “If you have standards then you have to have them coming from the top. The transition's been good. Inevitably, people do things in a different way and that's for the good.”
The 11-partner firm has a turnover of £5.5m with an average profits per equity partner figure of £265,000. However, it is not about to become complacent. “We've got to grow the business,” continues Gilthorpe. “Target areas are owner-managed businesses, the small public company sector. Technology and innovation has grown considerably over the last few years and has much more mileage in it; we're shaping our employment practice by training people to handle situations rather than waiting for the problem to occur.”
Gilthorpe says that one of the greatest challenges the firm faces is in recruiting the right people. “We need high-calibre people who are commercial, are prepared to work hard and want to take the business forward,” he asserts. Retention in the turbulent North is also key, but Gilthorpe insists that he has never lost anyone that he wanted to retain. “Year on year we're getting a better calibre of applicant,” he claims. “We're putting a lot of time into training our existing people.”
A certain bitterness creeps in when Gilthorpe jokes that he feels like he has trained half of the North East, but he remains confident that the firm will continue to attract high-fliers, such as partner Paul Johnson, who joined from Pinsent Curtis (now Pinsent Curtis Biddle) in October last year, and Stephen McNicol, who joined from Lovells in September 2000. The firm, though, has seen the loss of partners Julian Gill and Roddy Gordon in the last 12 months, both to local rival Watson Burton.
One well-publicised transaction in recent months is the £62m transfer of assets from Northern Sinfonia/Folkworks to the North Music Trust (NMT). The NMT is building an international music venue, one of the largest projects in the area, with the buildings going up on the Gateshead side of the Tyne. Another is the Bank of Scotland investment lending in Oasis Healthcare, to the tune of £25m.
Property work has been dominated by client McAleer & Rushe, which is redeveloping a cattle market site in Newcastle with a 270-bedroom hotel, a 700-space multi-storey car park and 140,000 sq ft of office space.
Oh, by the way, just for the record: Gilthorpe would like to add that his firm is not about to merge with Ward Hadaway.