Emma Danks, partner, Taylor WessingName: Emma Danks

Firm: Taylor Wessing

Position: Partner

Trained at: Clifford Chance

In Hot 100 for: As one of the few female private equity heads in the City, leading on numerous big deals. Read her full Hot 100 profile.

What’s your most vivid memory from being a trainee?

Probably being asked by my supervisor to move his (very expensive) car into the Clifford Chance partners’ car park from where it was currently parked – and arriving back in the office two hours later after getting lost in the one way system round St Paul’s.

Who has been the most influential person in your career? Why, and how have they helped you?

I was really lucky as a trainee and associate at CC to work with some great names in the private equity space and so owe a lot to all of the team while I was there – and the fact that so many of us are still in contact is credit to the strong team spirit which we had. 

Of particular mention is David Walker (now at Latham & Watkins) and Adam Signy (who then went on to start the corporate practice at Simpson Thacher). I worked on a lot of very interesting deals with them and during a real boom time for buyouts – and they always encouraged me to look at the wider commercial picture, engender trust from the client – and have some fun on the deal too.

What was the best career decision you ever made, and why?

I took a pretty scattergun approach to my career choice having not studied law at university.  Training contract applications were in among applications to banks, big corporates and management consultants – plus a Masters which would have led to a career as a surveyor.  Out of all of those options, deciding to go into law was probably the best decision – although I was likely more motivated by another two years as a student rather than conscious thought.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the job you do?

Try to get a real understanding of your client – take time to get to know their business and what motivates them.  Private equity is in particular a relationship driven business – it is as much about the individuals as the funds they work for.  This is as relevant at the start of your career as later on – everyone you work with along the way has the potential to be your clients of tomorrow.

What work or career-related project or activity would you really like to do, but don’t have time for?

PE is a good sector to be in within the legal world as you are often very close to the decision makers on a deal and the negotiations. This gives you good commercial insight and board room access – and it would be great to be able to take this to the next level and get some experience as a non-executive director too. 

I’m a trustee of a burns charity (Dan’s Fund for Burns) set up in memory of a friend who lost his life in the Bali bomb (Dan Miller – who was a lawyer at Herbert Smith) – that has given me a chance to use my legal skills in a completely different environment to my day job – and if I had a bit more time for other activities like that it would be a wonderful thing to do.