Barclays M&A legal chief Matthew Dobson believes his job combines the best parts of in-house and private practice, says Andrew Pugh
Since he moved to the bank four years ago from Australian firm Blake Dawson, Barclays M&A legal chief Matthew Dobson has taken a leading role on a series of big-ticket deals.
That means much of his work at the bank has been a continuation of the corporate practice he has been developing for the past 15 years.
Dobson started his career at Clifford Chance in 1993, moving to Andersen Legal four years later. When the network collapsed following the Enron scandal in 2001 Dobson moved to another magic circle firm, Allen & Overy (A&O), where his first deal was opposite Enron.
He left the firm’s London office after four years to join Blake Dawson in 2005. It was there that he acted for CVC Capital Partners in its $2.7bn (£4.2bn) acquisition of DCA, a deal that remains the largest public-to-private transaction in Australian private equity history.
Dobson has fond memories of his stint Down Under.
“I really loved it,” he recalls. “It was the boom time and there was a lot of international investment going into Australia.”
Dobson was offered partnership at Blake Dawson, but instead decided to return to the UK with his wife. What attracted him to the Barclays job was the opportunity to continue practising M&A while getting the chance shape deals rather than endure the “grind” of corporate practice.
“A great thing about this role is the high-quality M&A,” he says. “But the attraction of being here is that you’re more instrumental in shaping the outcome of a deal than when you’re in private practice. There’s a lot more reviewing and structuring deals. One of my colleagues describes it as a mix between in-house and the best bits of private practice, and I agree.
“I essentially wear two hats – one is to drive and execute deals, the other is to review and check deals, which is more of a governance role. You need to be able to challenge.”
Dobson heads a team of eight lawyers following arrivals from A&O and Linklaters this month. The team works hand-in-hand with the 30-strong corporate development team, although Dobson insists that his governance role does not lead to tension with his non-lawyer colleagues.
“There’s a lot of debate and discussion,” he admits. “There’s a culture within the organisation of debating points a lot, thinking about how things might look on the front page of the FT. There’s a lot of debate, but it’s always civilised.”
Dobson believes the work he has done at Barclays is equivalent in quality to any of the deals he worked on in the magic circle.
One of the standout deals came in 2009 when he fronted negotiations on the sale of iShares to CVC. The sale included a ’go-shop’ that led to the £9.5bn sale of Barclays Global Investors (BGI) to US asset management giant BlackRock, which also involved coordinating legal teams in the US and UK.
He describes the deal as one the “most creative and challenging” of his career. During negotiations the bank’s shares fell to 49p.
“I was never worried about my job at that time because I had so much to do,” says Dobson. “We were so in the thick of it.”
During his four years with the bank he has also worked on the purchase of Standard Life Bank, the 2008 fundraisings from sovereign wealth investors and numerous joint ventures.
While the Barclays group works with more than 100 firms, Dobson works mainly with those on the company’s eight-strong general advisory panel: Addleshaw Goddard, A&O, Clifford Chance, DLA Piper, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Hogan Lovells, Linklaters and Simmons & Simmons. He also works with the US panel, which includes Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, Sidley Austin and Sullivan & Cromwell.
“We want to work with firms that know how we think so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time we do a deal,” Dobson says. “It’s also about having partners who are prepared to give recommendations. In M&A the stakes are high, so quality of advice ranks above all else.”
While Dobson is enjoying his time doing M&A he does not rule out a move into other areas.
“I don’t believe you’re either an in-house lawyer or a private practice lawyer,” he emphasises. “If you’re a good lawyer you should be able to performdifferent roles throughout your career.”