The rising status of the suit set

Eversheds is an interesting animal. Less evidently political than DLA Piper and rather less prone to dramatic convulsions, it’s always been short on pizzazz and long on execution.

Catrin Griffiths

Which is just the way chief executive Bryan Hughes likes it. As senior reporter James Swift’s examination shows, Hughes is not a natural rally-the-troops-over-the-barricades kinda guy, but one whose defining characteristic is practicality. This was just as well for Eversheds, given that Hughes took over just at the time of the Lehman collapse in 2008.

At the end of financial year 2007/8, the firm’s turnover was the highest it had ever been, at £390.1m. Five years on, and without minimising the scars of four – yes, four – rounds of redundancies, Eversheds is a whole lot fitter.

In 2007/08 the firm had total staff of 3,874; 2012 figures show that in five years staff numbers have dropped by 28.7 per cent to 2,761. That’s some weight-loss programme.

In 2008/09 Eversheds’ revenue plummeted £24.1m and it’s been a slow climb upwards. Turnover is now £366m, but the most telling statistic is this: when the firm’s turnover was at its highest ever back in 2007/08, net profit was £80m – only £600,000 more than it is today (£79.4m).

Eversheds didn’t have a happy recession – the 735 redundancies attest to that – but the fact that Hughes was head of the firm’s volume business in Cardiff and then ran the operations function is telling.

Even in Eversheds there was some residual snobbery about Hughes’ CV, but the inky discipline of margins and process stood Hughes in good stead; internally, he doesn’t have the fearsome reputation of that other proponent of financial rigour Tony Angel, Hughes’s counterpart at DLA Piper. (Perhaps that chummy repertoire of bad jokes helps.)

There has been a lot written about non-lawyer chief executives and how they tend not to flourish culturally in major law firms, mainly because those firms still tend to recruit essay-writers at graduate level. However, in the lower reaches of the UK200 they are now common, since those firms have less reliance on institutional workflows.

Across the board, the management skill set has definitively changed from black-letter law to bean-counting. The spreadsheet tribe is on the rise; vision is now in the details.