15 September 2008
Known variously to his colleagues as ‘Dirty Harry’ and ‘der Metzger’ (‘the butcher’), Lovells Continental Europe head Harald Seisler is emerging as a force to be reckoned with in the firm’s forthcoming managing partner elections.
Dismissed by some London partners for his Teutonic ways, the Frankfurt-based dispute resolution lawyer is famed for his tough stance on underperformance and is credited with turning around the fortunes of the firm’s European offering. For incumbent David Harris he makes a formidable opponent.
“He’s got a very forceful management style and makes his points very clearly,” says one London partner who has worked with Seisler at management level. “Some might say he’s abrupt.
“He’s a good administrator, but not a visionary at all. For those who want to see the firm shaken up in terms of performance management, that’s something he’ll do.
“Performance management has been done [under Harris], but in a more measured way. Harald is far more slash and burn. His approach would be to turn up the volume. That would appeal to some people, but not all.”
While Seisler’s approach has certainly achieved results (Germany is now more profitable than London, and Europe as a whole is performing well), equally it has not necessarily won him any friends.
“He wasn’t the most popular person in Germany when he was managing partner – he has a robust style and people don’t like his body language – but now he has a lot of respect,” reveals a former German partner. “He also works on his weaknesses and tries to become a more popular guy.”
Generally regarded as a numbers man, Seisler is unafraid to take action that will have a positive impact on the bottom line – notably, it was his decision to close the ailing Berlin office in 2006. For some, this level of decisiveness would be a welcome change for an otherwise staid firm.
“Harald does stuff when it needs doing,” says a former London partner. “He’ll sack people and make the firm much more money-focused and results-focused.”
But while Seisler would be likely to inject some much-needed aggression into Lovells, questions remain over whether he is actually up to the job.
He has a long track record of management, having been de facto managing partner of Boesebeck Barz & Partners, which merged with Droste in 1997 before Boesebeck Droste merged with Lovells White Durrant in 2000.
Although he did not have a management role at Boesebeck Droste, in the period between 1997 and 2000 Seisler proved his willingness to embrace change: having opposed the original merger between the German firms, ;he
welcomed the enlarged firm’s ;later union with Lovells. Once he had become part of an international firm, Seisler made sure his English, which was basic at the time of the merger, became fluent.
Following the merger with Lovells, Seisler served as German managing partner from 2000 to 2002 before heading Central and Eastern Europe for the following three years. He has led Continental Europe since 2005.
Despite this, and despite the fact that Seisler’s campaign has been given credence by the current strength of Lovells’ European practice, a former German partner questions how much of this success can be put down to Seisler’s management alone.
“A managing partner can only do so much,” says the former partner. “I don’t know how much you can attribute the success of the Eastern Europe practice to Harald Seisler. He’s promoted the right people and has lateral hired a number of good people, but I don’t see him as a great visionary.
“His strength is in number controlling rather than looking at the big picture of what the firm will look like in 10 years.”
But in a sense a managing partner can be judged successful if they keep a tight control of finances and make sure the right partners are hired while the wrong ones are fired.
Clearly being able to visualise the firm’s progress in the medium to long term is also crucial, but the ability to do this can be enhanced with the input of an elected management committee.
Whether Lovells’ partnership feels Harris has had his day as head of the firm, and whether it is ready to accept a foreigner in his place, will become clear when it votes in November.
Regardless of who the right man for the job actually is, the danger now faced by Lovells is that a vote against Seisler could be viewed as a vote of no confidence in its strong international network.
“The only reason not to have him as managing partner,” says a German source, “is because he’s a foreigner. It’s blatant London xenophobia.”
Seisler ;declined ;to comment