Ashurst secures activist investor’s HSBC bid role

Ashurst‘s bold strategy of targeting activist investors as clients is paying off, with the top 10 firm advising a boldface activist on its current assault on HSBC.

US-headquartered asset manager Knight Vinke has turned to Ashurst for strategic advice on its focus on the UK’s biggest bank.

The shareholder activist now has the backing of powerful Californian pension fund CalPERS. Together they hold £192m worth of shares in HSBC, with options on a further 13.2 million shares. They announced their attack on HSBC on 7 September, calling for a strategic review of the bank and an overhaul of its board, a request that has as yet been refused.

So far, there has not been much call for legal advice. Ashurst head of corporate Adrian Clark said: “In these situations, we’re giving strategic advice and tactics . We’d sometimes offer advice on sharebuying and market abuse.”

Nevertheless, Knight Vinke is a high-profile activist of the kind Ashurst is trying to attract. “Knight Vinke is very respectable. It has a thoughtful and intellectual approach to investing,” said Clark. “It’s not about getting in and out of a situation as quickly as possible.”

Knight Vinke campaigned successfully in 2004 for Royal Dutch Shell to give up its dual Anglo-Dutch corporate structure.

Ashurst announced this summer that it would target the more reputable activist hedge funds as clients (The Lawyer, 25 June). This sets it apart from other City firms, which are wary of the potential for conflicts of interest.

Knight Vinke is a longstanding client of Ashurst for work in the UK, with founder Eric Knight also a client. It is understood that Knight Vinke uses Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton on US matters.