Turmoil rules at all-change Ashurst

Stephen Lloyd’s exit piles on the pressure, just when firm was hoping for a breather

Ashurst has had more than its fair share of dramas in the past six weeks – a multimillion-pound merger, a shock leadership change and an overhaul of the board. Now, as they frantically search for the ‘pause’ button, they are hit with the news that the firm’s global corporate head Stephen Lloyd is off.

The significance of Lloyd’s departure is not to be sniffed at. He may have spent years juggling client work with practice management but it is thought he rakes in up to £10m a year in fees. He is also well-liked and influential.

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

Still, Lloyd’s move is hardly 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 waving a resignation letter, before being placated and staying put.

Three years on, 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 remuneration fall from over £1m to £975,000.

But for the time being, the departure conjures up more questions than answers. First, where will he pop up next? Sources suggest old friend Simpson Thacher may have made him an offer he can’t refuse. Or perhaps he has been wooed by a hefty pay cheque from another US firm such as Latham & Watkins or Sullivan & Cromwell. It seems that was just the ticket for his former private equity colleagues Gavin Gordon and David Arnold, who jumped ship to Kirkland & Ellis in 2010.

Perhaps more worrisome for Ashurst is the question of who will fill Lloyd’s shoes at the top of the corporate tree. And will his departure inspire other big names to head for the door? 

“There are a number of CVs on the market,” hints one source.

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