Osborne Clarke’s Simon Beswick: Cue the next phase

Osborne Clarke’s Simon Beswick, now in his final stint as managing partner, is hunting further international growth. Asia beckons.

When he took up the reins at Osborne Clarke back in 2002 the Bristol-headquartered firm was a six-office regional player with a turnover of £60.9m.

By the time he steps down from his third and final term at the end of December, Beswick will have overseen its transformation into an 18-office £142m heavyweight with a centre of gravity in London (10 June 2014).

Beswick has certainly had his foot on the Osborne Clarke throttle over the past two years, steering it to bolting on two-thirds of the firm’s 18 offices during his time at the helm. And it’s not just about European expansion. In addition to adding offices in Hamburg, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, Milan, Padova and Brescia, Osborne Clarke has also launched in New York and San Francisco.

“That was always intended to be the first phase of our international game plan,” says Beswick. “And for a year or so, we’ve been talking about the next phase. From a strategic point of view, we won’t be opening anymore offices in Europe.”

So, what’s next on Beswick’s shopping list? The short answer is Asia, at least according to several sources close to the firm. Plus, marching into the jurisdiction would certainly make sense from a strategic perspective.

That strategy, in large part, has revolved around Osborne Clarke’s sector focus. Back in 2010, Beswick restructured the firm around four distinct sector groups: financial services, real estate, energy and digital business (formerly known as TMT) (14 May 2010).

Osborne Clarke has since bolted on a handful more sectors, bringing its tally up to seven.

On paper digital business has bloomed into Osborne Clarke’s strongest link in its armour. Digital business currently accounts for roughly 30 per cent of the firm’s total UK revenue, and has acted as a canny springboard to launch its raft of new offices, both in Europe and stateside.

“Of all our sectors, our activities have been embraced in digital business for longest,” says the firm’s digital business chief Adrian Bott.

In fact, opening new offices off the back of the firm’s technology work is nothing new. In 2001, the firm opened its Silicon Valley office having been prompted by California-based tech clients including Yahoo. Over the past 12 years, that office has expanded – both as a marketing tool to attract West Coast clients and as a small office in its own right.

In the last 18 months alone the Silicon Valley outpost has helped Osborne Clarke’s European offices win referrals from the likes of AirBnB, Rocketfuel, GoPro and Beats Electronics.

And it’s not just small fry deals. Earlier this year Osborne Clarke advised Dr Dre’s music platform Beats on its $3bn buyout by Apple out of the office, winning a prized spot on a roster alongside US powerhouses including Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom and Weil Gotshal & Manges (30 May 2014).

“In many ways, the US has been our most important international market, and it’s continuing as a great font of innovation,” continues Bott. “Our strategy is very much built around developing capacity in the UK and in Europe to serve inbound US corporates and general counsels, who have increasingly wanted a one-stop-shop or a complete solution to their regulatory issues.”

But Osborne Clarke can hardly be that one-stop-shop without a truly global presence. And as Bott puts it, “digits and the internet don’t respect jurisdictions”.

According to figures from Mergermarket, global M&A deals within the TMT sector had their strongest half-year on record between January and July 2014. Deals originated in North America continued to rule the roost, contributing to 62 per cent of the global total.

However, Asia Pacific (excluding Japan) witnessed a 147.5 per cent increase in activity. That’s compared to a relatively paltry 37.1 per cent growth in Europe.

“Over the next few years we’ll continue to build bases,” says Beswick.

A shift into Asia would be an obvious blank canvas for the firm to begin building its presence outside of Europe and the US, not just in digital business, but ultimately for the wider firm.