Lloyd of the manor at Ashurst

The exit of Ashurst corporate head Stephen Lloyd is just the latest in a string of changes at the City firm

Lloyd

Ashurst has witnessed more than its fair share of dramas over the past six weeks. Partners voted in favour of a multi-million pound merger (26 September 2013), a shock leadership change (16 October 2013), and an overhaul of the board (5 November 2013). Now, as they frantically search for the ‘pause’ button, they’re hit with the news that the firm’s global corporate head Stephen Lloyd is exiting the firm (7 November 2013).

The significance of Lloyd’s departure is not to be sniffed at. He may have spent much of the last few years juggling client work with practice management but it’s thought that he rakes in between £6m and £10m a year in fees. He’s also among Ashurst’s most well-liked and influential players. As one former partner put it, “He’s an important guy and one of the most capable deal-doers and client-winners at the firm.”

Lloyd also has close ties with some of the firm’s trophy clients. In fact, he is thought to be the man responsible for hooking private equity firm Apax back in 2004 (14 June 2004). Sources close to Ashurst suggest the client will “almost certainly” move with him, while Alberta Investment Management Corporation (Aimco) is also one of his key relationships.

Still, Lloyd’s decision should hardly come as a big surprise. Rumour has it that the global corporate head has been on the market since 2010 – having had at least two rounds of talks with US firm Simpson Thacher, and once even marching into former senior partner Charlie Geffen’s office wielding his resignation letter before being placated into staying put.

Three years on, and Lloyd was still sitting pretty despite Ashurst’s static profits and tumbling PEP. In that time, those on the top rung of the equity have seen their remuneration fall from £1.013m to £975,000 (5 July 2013).

For the time being, though, the corporate head’s departure conjures up more questions than answers. Firstly, where will he pop up next? Sources suggest that his old friend Simpson Thacher may have made an offer too good to refuse. Or perhaps he’s been wooed by a hefty pay cheque from another US firm such as Latham & Watkins or Sullivan & Cromwell? It seemed that was just the ticket for his former private equity colleagues Gavin Gordon and David Arnold who jumped ship to Kirkland & Ellis in 2010 (1 June 2010).

Alternatively, sources note that Lloyd has a soft spot for Allen & Overy. Or, that he may be just the man to plug the gap left at Linklaters by the departure of Richard Youle and Ian Bagshaw who recently made a dramatic exit for White & Case (17 October 2013).

Perhaps more worrisome for Ashurst, is the question of who will fill his shoes as the top of the corporate tree. There’s no one obvious candidate, although sources suspect that the firm’s European corporate head Simon Beddow may throw his hat into the ring despite being elected onto the firm’s new board just days ago. Private equity partner David Carter and corporate stalwarts Bruce Hanton and Mark Sperotto’s names have also been touted as possibile challengers.

Finally, will Lloyd’s departure inspire other Ashurst names to head for the door? “I know there are a number of CVs on the market,” hinted one source.

It’s not too much of a long shot to suppose that one of these might have Charlie Geffen’s name plastered across the top. If the former chief also decides to hang up his well-trod Ashurst boots, that’ll be two of the firm’s biggest corporate names out of the door.

It’s Ashurst, Jim, but not as we know it.