Battle to become Freshfields’ global corporate head begins in earnest

Will the young guns push Rawlinson out of pole position? Margaret Taylor investigates

Mark Rawlinson

Mark Rawlinson

The race is on to find Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s next global head of corporate, with incumbent Andreas Fabritius set to stand down at the end of his four-year term.

Publicly, partners at the firm are remaining tight-lipped about who Fabritius’s successor could be. ­London corporate chief Mark Rawlinson comments: “It’s difficult to say anything, to be honest. Andreas’s replacement is down to [co-senior partners] Guy Morton and Konstantin Mettenheimer ­following a consultation with all corporate partners worldwide. I’m not sure it helps to speculate.”

Privately, of course, it is a ­different matter, with speculation rife about who will be next to fill what is seen as a pivotal role at the corporate giant.

Although Frankfurt-based ­Fabritius has been sole head of ­corporate since 2006, the position had been shared by one UK and one German partner since the 2000 merger between the UK’s Freshfields and Germany’s ­Bruckhaus Westrick Heller Löber. Gavin ­Darlington had shared the role with Fabritius, but he stepped down in 2005.

The general feeling among Freshfields’ partners is that the firm will not return to the dual-head model, with most assuming that, as the current corporate chief is German, the next is almost ­certain to be ­London-based.

To some, Rawlinson would be the obvious choice. Having replaced Tim Jones as London corporate chief just over a year ago, Rawlinson is incredibly popular among his peers and has shaken up the London corporate group to give responsibility to a greater number of partners, enabling them all to continue handling client work.

However, the ­feeling is that Rawlinson, who has been a partner since 1990, could be a little too senior for the global job. The same goes for corporate guru and partner since 1986 Barry O’Brien, who, despite being known to his colleagues as a ‘superhero’, has in any case already done the global job, sharing the title with Düsseldorf and Munich partner Axel Epe at the beginning of the decade.

As one source at the firm says: “Sometimes highly regarded older partners get mentioned because it’s seen as a job they could do right before they retire, but the ­likelihood is that it will go to ­someone in their mid to late 40s.”

In London the trio of partners who fit that bill – and who are tipped for the job by their peers – are Edward Braham, Julian Long and Will Lawes. Simon Marchant would have been in the running had he not taken on the role of Asia regional managing partner earlier this year.

Of the three, Lawes, who ­currently co-heads the firm’s worldwide financial institutions group (FIG) and runs the ­corporate FIG team in London, has marginally more experience as a partner, ­having been made up in 1994, a year before Long and Braham.

Lawes’ appointment would no doubt cause the greatest disruption to the firm, given that he would need to be replaced as FIG head. That said, the FIG role has been shared between three ­people since October 2008, when ­London banking partner Sean Pierce was appointed alongside Lawes and Frankfurt partner Gunnar ­Schuster, which may indicate that the firm is already preparing for Lawes’ elevation.

In terms of transactional work, Braham and Long, who each chair one of the four groups within the London corporate practice, boast CVs just as strong as Lawes’.

While Lawes has advised Pearl, Northern Rock and BAE Systems on headline-grabbing deals, ­Braham has acted on big-ticket deals such as ICI’s purchase of Unilever’s chemical division, while Long counts AstraZeneca and British Land among his clients.

Of course the job will not ­necessarily go to a London partner. Although there is a very strong sense within the firm that because the incumbent is German the next corporate chief will be UK-based, one ­corporate partner says the firm has moved beyond the ­turnabout mentality and could well opt for another German. It is, of course, also possible that the job could go to someone from ­elsewhere in the firm’s network, but the expectation is that one of its two key hubs will be favoured.

A source at the firm says: “If you look at the people who’ve done that job, it could be anyone who’s around 45 or above – although there isn’t a particular age ­characteristic for the job. I would think it will go to a big-hitting, well-known corporate partner.”

Of the German partners that fit that description, Epe is likely to be ruled out for the same reason as O’Brien and Rawlinson, while Cologne-based Burkhard Bastuck, who has been a partner since 1988, would also be ruled out.

That leaves Frankfurt-based Matthias-Gabriel Kremer, who was co-chair of the financial ­institutions group from 2000 to 2006, and Hamburg-based ­Marius Berenbrok, who heads the ­corporate group in Germany and Central and Eastern Europe.

Much like the London favourites, Kremer and Berenbrok have both been Freshfields partners since 1995 and are known as leading players in their domestic market, although Kremer is thought to be too frontline to consider a ­management role.

With Morton and Mettenheimer still consulting on who should succeed Fabritius, it is ­likely to be at least a month until the replacement is announced.
For the victor, Fabritius will be a formidable but likeable act to ­follow. As one partner says: “He was known as being pretty hard, but he got things done and was pretty well-regarded.”

Or, as another quips in typical Freshfields style: “He’s been ­marvellous.”