Geoffrey Green used to play football for an amateur side captained by Mickey Stewart, former boss of the hapless English cricket team. As Green attempts to turn around Ashurst Morris Crisp’s fortunes, you have to hope he will have more success as a leader, both domes-tically and overseas, than his former skipper.
Green has been in the hot seat since succeeding Andrew Soundy as senior partner last December. By tradition, Ashursts’ senior partner is an all-powerful, imperial leader. But with Ian Nisse’s election as the firm’s first managing partner in 1997, Green has a different role. “I intend to spend at least 50 per cent of my time on client-related work,” he says. “The difficulty will be keeping up with the detail.”
He does not appear overly confident about his prospects, questioning whether he can pull off the new role and still be around for the next election in five years’ time. But maybe this is just a frank acceptance that running Ashursts will be no easy ride.
Last year was a turbulent one for Ashursts as it came to terms with the merger that never was – with Clifford Chance. Four banking partners led by Stephen Mostyn-Williams quit for US firm Shearman & Sterling. And star corporate partner Mark Whippell went to Allen & Overy – a move, admits Green, specifically related to the “no” vote on the merger.
The seepage has continued this year with energy partner Stewart White going in-house with Vodafone and James Nimmo moving to US firm Squire Sanders & Dempsey.
Green – a supporter of the merger – says the issue is “done and dusted”.
“We are a very democratic partnership. We had a very open debate and there is no lingering resentment.”
Of the partners who have left, Green says: “Ashursts does have a strong culture and some people can get a little bit uneasy that corporate work is so dominant.”
But this is no apology. An Ashursts man through and through, Green’s plan is to stick to the firm’s core values. “I don’t want to open in Sao Paulo just because Linklaters has opened an office there,” he says.
This means focusing on corporate finance and merger and acquisition work, while maintaining strong independent practices. Green says project finance and energy are already there but telecoms need to be refocused: “Stewart [White]’s practice was very Middle East-based. We want to make it more European.”
European expansion is Green’s immediate aim. He wants to double the firm’s presence in Frankfurt from 10 to 20 lawyers in the next year. Scandinavia could be another target. Green sees it as a big growth area for corporate work. In the longer term, he is committed to establishing a US presence.
Green says partners may leave but their practices remain, making Ashursts an ideal place for lawyers to come to develop their practices.
The jury is out on Green’s chances of success. “He’s the best it is going to get,” says one source close to Ashursts, “but I wonder whether he is sufficiently decisive. The firm continues to lose clients and partners and I doubt he will take the tough decision to either shrink or merge.”
By contrast, one senior partner comments: “He’s a terrific chap, and very sensible. If the firm is going to stick to what it does best, he is undoubtedly the man to lead it.”
Ashurts Morris Crisp