Struan Robertson, senior partner at Sinclair Roche & Temperley, is a man clearly suited to his firm.
Sinclairs, which specialises in shipping, is well known for its presence in the Far East. And though Robertson is at pains to make it clear that he would rather not talk about himself, once the conversation turns to the Orient and the opportunities it affords for indulging in his favourite pastime, sailing.
Robertson’s love of the Far East dates back to when he began his career there, 32 years ago in 1967, with London firm Glovers.
He joined Sinclairs in 1978 after a brief spell as an in-house lawyer at Hong Kong-based Worldwide Shipping Agencies Company, and became Sinclairs’ trade and transportation partner, tasked with setting up the firm’s Hong Kong office.
Robertson says: “It was a very vibrant place. It was very exciting and that was what attracted me.”
He was promoted to senior partner last month, after 20 years at the firm, taking over from Harvey Williams, who will remain as a consultant.
Sinclairs is refocusing its trade and transport department so that each sector of the division relates to a specific industry.
He says that the firm has broken down into quite specialist areas, bringing together people from within different departments. He believes this approach alleviates an age-old problem for lawyers: “One of the things that has always troubled me is that lawyers can become confined in very narrow, specialist fields.
“A lot of firms put you in a department and once you’re there, you end up functioning in a very narrow area for a long period of time, which is not very satisfying.”
However, Robertson says, Sinclairs has never limited him in this way, and after setting up the firm’s Hong Kong office, his career has involved work in a number of different fields.
“It was really an opportunity to see other areas of practice and to spend a bit of time in a foreign environment, which was then thought to be quite good,” he says.
“Unfortunately, the foreign environment was so attractive that I decided to stay out there.”
He adds: “There was quite a lot of activity and development in both shipping and aviation, with a fair amount of general trade finance work also going on.”
Sinclairs’ expansion into more diverse areas of law also reflected the impact the Asian oil crisis had on the firm in the 1970s and 1980s.
Robertson rather perversely says the crisis was “fun”, but adds: “Fun in the sense that it created a great deal of change and quite a lot of work. One had to do a lot of restructuring.”
Over 60 per cent of Sinclairs’ clients are based overseas and the firm is particularly strong in Germany and Scandinavia, the base of one of its first clients, Nordisk.
Robertson is awed by just how much the company has grown internationally. “Recently, someone suggested we should have a reception,” he says, “so we all sat down and said: ‘Gosh, we have this many people’. It was a very pleasant affair.”
Despite the attractions of the Far East after many years of globetrotting he was ready for a change of scene when he eventually returned to the UK in 1986.
“Hong Kong is a very compelling place but I felt I had to leave,” he says. “What I missed most about it was the sheer pace. It is very demanding and I found that very exciting. Here, things don’t move quite as fast.”
But things are hardly likely to slow down for Robertson now that he is senior partner, as he works to implement his ideas within the firm.
“I have been at Sinclairs forever,” he says. “But if I had a chance to go back and start again, I’d do the same thing.”
Sinclaire Roche & Temperly