Latham & Watkins hits Clifford Chance for third private equity star

Clifford Chance’s private equity practice has taken a blow with the departure of star Carlyle partner Kem Ihenacho to Latham & Watkins.

He is the third partner to have quit Clifford Chance for Latham & Watkins within the last year.

London partner and Africa practice co-head Ihenacho was one of the firm’s remaining contacts for Carlyle deals. His departure follows the exit of former private equity head David Walker and Tom Evans who both quit for Latham & Watkins in 2013 (9 October 2013).

Walker was seen as a damaging loss as the magic circle’s contact point for Carlyle, which already handed work to Latham partner Michael Bond in the UK and in the US.

His defection to Latham has seen him team up with Bond, pinning the magic circle firm’s hopes on young guns like Ihenacho. He was tasked with re-establishing links with slumbering clients in the sector back in 2010, to focus on Carlyle, CVC Capital Partners and Permira Private Equity.

The partner, made up in 2007, handled Carlyle’s African deals, having led on the group’s $210m (£132m) investment in Tanzania-based agricultural company Export Trading Group (ETG) in 2012 (26 November 2012).

Those relationships have been threatened by a raft of heavy-hitting corporate and funds departures from 2009. Private equity dealmaker Adam Signy left in a shock departure to Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in May 2009, quickly followed by funds head Jason Glover to the same US firm.

The following year partners Ed Gander, Nigel Clark, Nick Benson and Jonathan Kanel quit for Weil Gotshal & Manges (13 June 2011), before the hard-hitting exits of Walker and Evans.

Evans and Ihenacho were both seen as rising stars in the firm and key hopes to hold on to clients like Carlyle, Permira and IK Investment Partners.

Walker had been the key contact point for Carlyle and Equistone Partners Europe, leading around two deals a year for the funds. In July 2013 the US firm took its first deal for the trophy client after Walker’s move with the acquisition of global packaging supplier Chesapeake.

The firm was once a leader in the field, it is now a target for expansive and opportunistic American firms.

A source said: “ I think it’s because the increasing proponderance of US high rated firms in London market and it’s the conjunction of the high-yield and debt markets and the fact that US firms are more profitable.”

The departure will raise questions about what private equity clients the firm has left in its arsenal. Partner Amy Mahon was touted as a shining star to work alongside Ihenacho and Walker and is still at the firm. She has also been a key Carlyle partner. 

Ihenacho is the sixth partner hire by Latham’s London office since May last year. His arrival follows that of Evans and Walker; capital markets partner Dean Naumowicz from Norton Rose Fulbright (19 June 2013); litigation partner Simon Bushell from Herbert Smith Freehills (7 Februrary 2013); and Nick Benson, who arrived from Weil Gotshal & Manges in January last year having joined Weil in 2011. The office now has 250 fee earners including over 60 partners.

In a statement London corporate head Simon Tinkler said: “Clifford Chance has a leading private equity practice globally.  We enjoy the strongest market position in London, with a well-established team of highly-regarded partners and a group of talented associates.   This team is very busy, working across a large number of major transactions for many of the world’s leading PE houses alongside our top tier partners in finance, high yield, funds and regulatory who form a core part of our PE offering.”

Talking ’bout Kem’s generation

Ihenacho’s exit will leave questions about what partners are left in Clifford Chance’s private equity team. But the firm still has a new generation of funds partners offering hope for the future of Clifford Chance corporate.

Patrick Sarch: corporate finance partner made up in 2005. Clients include Barclays and clearing house (LCH).

Nigel Wellings: M&A partner, made up in 2006. Acted for ­Chinalco on its aborted Rio Tinto tie-up. Took over as corporate chief in the Middle East in 2013.

Rob Crothers: corporate finance partner, made up in 2008. Part of the team advising Kraft in 2010 and Japanese beverage Suntory in 2013.

Amy Mahon: private equity, ­corporate finance and M&A ­partner. Rejoined CC after two years at Macquarie Bank and has strong ties to Equistone. Led several deals for the client both with and without Walker.

Lee Coney: corporate finance and M&A partner, made up in 2007. Clients include DTZ and Citi. Advised on acquisition of Volve Aero and Eurasian Resources Group on £3bn Eurasian Natural Resources offer.

Spencer Baylin: corporate finance and M&A partner, made up in 2002. Advised T-Mobile on the mooted tie-up with Orange.

Brendan Moylan: M&A partner, made up in 2005. Advised ­Macquarie Bank on National Grid mobile mast business buy. Advised Cinven on £465m acquisition of Mercury Pharma from HgCapital in 2012.

Jonny Myers: made up in 2001. Cinven relationship partner who advised on £465m acquisition of Mercury Pharma from HgCapital in 2012.

Caroline Sherrell: assisted Walker on Carlyle’s £1bn acquisition of RAC from Aviva in 2011 and £650m sale of Talaris to Glory in 2012. Was made a partner in 2012.