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17 October 2013
When Geoffrey Mead underwent the interview to become Warner Cranston's new head of employment, he had the dubious pleasure of completing a psychometric test.
Among other things, Mead says the results revealed him to be an "aspiring chief executive".
However more tellingly, he was found to have "a desire for recognition and reward", which sums up his latest move from being an associate at Manches to heading up one of the most highly respected employment departments in London (The Lawyer, 13 September).
The move also means Mead faces the task of taking over the department from leading employment lawyer David Dalgarno who left to join McDermott Will & Emery in May.
One source says: "It is an excellent employment practice which likes to punch above its weight."
But Mead is not intimidated by the task ahead of him: "I think that's probably what encourages me to strive hard to achieve, because I like it when people recognise that achievement and feel annoyed when they don't."
He then corrects himself: "Not so much when they don't, but when I myself don't actually make the achievement."
So far his ambitious attitude appears to have paid off. Norton Rose took him on as an employment lawyer before he was even a qualified solicitor.
After lecturing in employment and discrimination law at Southampton University, Mead completed a pupillage at what was then 2 Crown Office Row (now Littleton Chambers).
However, he left chambers and joined Norton Rose in 1994 as no tenancies were available.
"Norton Rose was looking for someone two or three years qualified but I explained to them that, having worked in employment law for so many years as a lecturer and writer and then having done the year of almost pure employment law at the bar, I could meet the need.
"For the first year I wasn't formally qualified as a solicitor but was qualified at the bar. I think no-one ever knew the difference. No clients ever knew that I wasn't a solicitor," he laughs, "and it never mattered."
Stuart Lippiart, head of pensions at Norton Rose, says: "He had not come through the standard route, it is an unconventional career path. But he is ambitious."
But even at school, Mead refused to take no for an answer. "When they said 'I'm not sure Geoffrey's up to going to Oxford, so why not send him somewhere else?' I thought, 'I can bloody well get into Oxford' - so I did."
Before his move to university, Mead says: "I was a great bore during the sixth form. I didn't go out to the pub or parties, I just sat at my little MFI desk with my books on economics and history and geography and beavered away."
However, Mead exposes a softer, more creative side to his character when he reveals his love of cooking, happily offering me a particular recipe for pan-fried chicken.
But then, in a roundabout way, even his enthusiasm for food has played its part in his professional life - he met the headhunter who initially drew his attention to the position at Warner Cranston at a dinner party.
At the time, Mead says he was reluctant to go to another firm. After four years with Norton Rose where Mead gained qualification as a solicitor, he joined Salans Hertzfeld & Heilbronn for six months before moving to Manches in 1998.
"I'd moved twice in the space of a year or so, I had good prospects at Manches and thought I should perhaps settle in there. So it initially required a lot of thought."
But in the end he seized the chance. After all, he reasons: "It's the sort of opportunity that doesn't present itself very often."
However, as well as having to cope with the departure of Dalgarno, Mead also faces the task of taking over a heavily depleted group which also lost David Cubbitt to Norton Rose.
"We make no bones about that or the fact that the departure of a large proportion of the team is a blow," says Mead.
Lippiart says: "I think the question of whether he will be able to fill the shoes of Dalgarno is a fair question. But he is a well known name, which is what Warner Cranston was after."
Another source says: "I don't think he's some guy who is going to dominate the scene. He's not cocky but he has a reasonable degree of confidence."
For his part, Mead's first move as head of employment will be to increase the number of lawyers in the team, and keep his own clients, as well as the firm's existing client base, happy.
"A number of [my clients] have loyally followed me from Norton Rose to Salans to Manches and to here as well. I think they're sick of receiving new business cards from me," he jokes.
But how long does Mead think he will remain at Warner Cranston? "A pretty long time," he says: "It's a long-term venture."
But that is assuming he does not invite any headhunters to dinner.
Head of employment