Support in a storm

Eversheds boss Bryan Hughes talks about leadership in a global downturn

Bryan Hughes
Bryan Hughes

Has the prospect of running a law firm become that unattractive? The number of uncontested management elections at firms this year suggests so.

Allen & Overy’s management duo both sailed back into office in January, as did Addleshaw Goddard managing partner Paul Devitt. Nobody thought to stand against Berwin Leighton Paisner managing partner Neville Eisenberg in Feburary, nor Taylor Wessing’s Tim Eyles in May.

And so it was for Eversheds chief executive Bryan Hughes, who was given a second four-year term at the helm on 9 October.

“It’s difficult to run a law firm in times such as these,” says Hughes. “It’s a time of uncertainty and you have to make difficult decisions that people won’t like.

“Six or seven years ago it was a case of – even a turkey can fly in a high wind,” adds Hughes, meaning that in the boom years firms did not have to be lean to make money.

Indeed, with his first term beginning in September 2008 Hughes’ reign so far as chief executive has been defined by the global economic crash. And with chief executives at Eversheds limited to two four-year terms – “I’m Obama-like in that respect,” quips Hughes – it’s possible that he will have stood down before markets recover. “I used to joke that I didn’t want to spend my whole time as a chief executive in recession, but that’s come back to bite me in the arse.

“It would be nice to get a bit of wind in our sails. We’ve got a streamlined business now so any growth would jump straight onto the bottom line.”

Asked what his proudest achievement has been, Hughes concedes that it has “probably been more a case of relief than pride in these difficult times” but says he has been happy with the firm’s return to profitability and keeping staff and partners informed and engaged during successive rounds of cuts.

Eversheds’ next three-year strategy is focused on making its international offices of a uniform quality.

That, says Hughes, would be his legacy: “If I can do it I’ll leave a happy man.”