Slaughter and May is developing its natural resources focus, cultivating links with clients looking to that new kingdom of hope – Africa. By Joshua Freedman
Slaughter and May’s London offices seem a far cry from the clamorous mines of Africa, but that did not stop the firm from inviting clients from the continent to a conference last month, the second time is had put on such an event since launching the initiative last year. Speakers converged on Slaughters’ Bunhill Row headquartered to address clients and African law firms on issues such as business prospects in the continent, with figures including government members coming in to tackle the question of potential for investors in the up-and-coming region. Among those addressing the audience was Mark Simmonds, who serves as minister for Africa under foreign secretary William Hague.
There is a precedent: last October the City leader held the first of its Africa symposia, which are opportunities for African law firms and global clients to gather for two days to engage more deeply in the issues. Last year’s bash, hosted by Slaughters plus European best friends Bonelli Erede Pappalardo, Bredin Prat, De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek, Hengeler Mueller and Uría Menéndez, was held in a resort outside the Botswanan capital of Gaborone, with clients such as Diageo, Philips and Standard Chartered Bank all attending. A repeat is planned for the autumn, again in Botswana.
Both events are part of a broad push to beef up the firm’s capabilities in the continent, covering corporates, private equity clients and banks such as Standard Chartered, as well as other Slaughters clients to have taken an interest in Africa. These include Vodafone and Unilever, as well as Diageo, which partners Simon Nicholls, Robin Ogle and Padraig Cronin advised on its £1.3bn acquisition last year of United Spirits, which involved a significant African element.
But while telecoms and consumer goods make up a hefty chunk of Slaughters’ growing Africa practice, the continent is best known as an area of opportunity for energy, infrastructure and natural resources. The latest tables from Adviser Rankings, the successor to Hemscott and Morningstar, show the corporate powerhouse has made noteworthy gains in this area.
Slaughters’ listed clients in basic materials in Q2 2013 are FTSE 100 outfits BHP Billiton and Croda International, Victrex of the FTSE 250 and AIM-listed Bellzone Mining. All these clients are shared with other firms. Its oil and gas roster includes FTSE 100 business Wood Group and FTSE 250 company Premier Oil.
It has made a particular push in mining and resources in recent years, especially in the past year, with the industry representing one of the few sectors of intense focus for Slaughters.
Bellzone is a case in point. Corporate partner Mark Zerdin, one of the firm’s mining specialists, advised the exploration and resource group on all aspects of its recent exploration project in the Republic of Guinea. It was a client win for Slaughters, with Bellzone previously using Allen & Overy and Chadbourne & Parke, both of which are still listed by Adviser Rankings as the resources group’s law firms, alongside offshore firm Carey Olsen and Australia’s Steinepreis Paganin.
Indeed, it was Zerdin himself who was approached by the miner as part of its rejig of advisers. A Morningstar news update in April announced the company’s selection of Slaughters as its new solicitors, although its AIM admission back in 2010 gave the chief advisory role to US firm Hunton & Williams on English law. Hunton continued to act for Bellzone on a range of deals through partner Dearbhla Quigley, who then brought the client to Chadbourne when joining the US rival’s London base alongside associate Danny Heathwood in 2011.
The mining and minerals group, headed by Zerdin and partner Nigel Boardman, is one of only two areas for which the firm has a dedicated sector group, alongside financial institutions, headed by Jan Putnis.
“We try to push our client representation across a variety of sectors,” says practice partner Paul Olney. “For example, we’ve been looking to develop our work in infrastructure, energy and natural resources. Africa is part of that, but I wouldn’t say acting for more clients in the mining sector has been solely attributable to that initiative.
“It’s an example of a sector focus, but it’s not the only one. We have a financial institutions group which obviously has a sector focus. The critical thing is to have a thorough understanding of your client’s business and the market it operates in. That is more important than having umpteen different sector groups.”
Bellzone is the sole miner added to Slaughters’ roster of listed clients this quarter, but a number of recent wins have been equally eye-catching. Q1 2013 saw it gain advanced materials technology company Morgan Crucible, which has since rebranded as Morgan Advanced Materials, won following a pitch by partner duo Stephen Cooke and Simon Nicholls, while Newmarket LED maker Dialight – promoted to the FTSE 250 in June 2012 – now lists Slaughters as its adviser alongside Michigan firm Butzel Long and Cambridge outfit Mills & Reeve.
From Africa to Snaith
Despite Slaughters’ journeys into Africa, one of its most remote client wins is Croda International, a listed chemicals group headquartered in the East Yorkshire town of Snaith. It moved up from the FTSE 250 to the FTSE 100 in March 2012 and last December brought in former legacy Lovells lawyer Tom Brophy as group general counsel and company secretary from FTSE 100 peer Wolseley, where he was deputy general counsel. The hire came alongside Louise Scott’s resignation as company secretary and legal counsel, with Scott leaving the company in December 2012 and her place on the group executive committee going to Brophy.
Brophy named both Slaughters and Eversheds as advisers in the company’s 2012 annual report and is set to perpetuate Croda’s ties to the former’s relationship partners Chris Saul and Jeff Twentyman, although its primary corporate relationship is still with Eversheds and industrial engineering sector chair Robin Johnson. It was Johnson who led on its £410m takeover of Uniqema in 2006 after winning the company’s main corporate role from Slaughters, in the firm’s standout deal for the key client.
While Slaughters has seen something of a resurgence with Croda recently, perhaps in light of its addition to the FTSE 100 list in March 2012, it still lags Eversheds, at least on day-to-day work. Brophy is unlikely to stamp his mark by launching a panel, but expects to take a look at advisers once his feet are under the desk. It also historically instructs firms nearer to home, such as DLA Piper and Bond Dickinson.
Alongside Croda’s promotion Slaughters also benefited from Schroder AsiaPacific Fund’s switch from the small-cap index to the FTSE 250, while Thomas Cook, having fallen out of the FTSE 100 in 2010, has risen from small-cap to the FTSE 250, with partners William Underhill, Tim Pharoah and Rebecca Cousin advising on its £1.6bn capital refinancing plan this year. And the IPOs of insurer Esure, led by John Papanichola and Jonathan Marks, and Countrywide, led by Jeff Twentyman and Richard Smith, added to Slaughters’ quoted client roster in early 2013.
Meanwhile, Helphire Group, advised for several years by partners Andy Ryde and Ian Johnson, moved from the small-cap index to AIM this April, retaining Slaughters and Berwin Leighton Paisner.
Slaughters’ only loss from its list of quoted clients is media group
Aegis, which left the FTSE 250 in March after being acquired by
Japan’s Dentsu in a £3.2bn deal in which Roland Turnill – the relationship partner alongside Tim Pharoah – advised Aegis, with Linklaters London partner David Holdsworth acting for Dentsu. Slaughters continues to advise Aegis, which is still run by the same pre-takeover team.
Slaughters may be making inroads into Africa and sectors such as mining, but rankings show it is business as usual across the rest of its corporate practice.