AAR strengthens Asian resolve with PCCW hire

Hong Kong and Shanghai offices to be doubled in size in two years; Singapore office also set to open

Top-tier firm Allens Arthur Robinson (AAR) is boosting its commitment to the Asian market with the recruitment of Pacific Century Cyber-Works (PCCW) general counsel Don Hess. The hire is part of an overall plan to beef up the firm’s Hong Kong and Shanghai operations.
Hess, who joined PCCW in 2000 following the company’s acquisition of Cable & Wireless HKT, will begin work in the Hong Kong office from 1 April. He will work alongside resident partner Matthew Barnard, replacing corporate and commercial partner Paul Quinn. Quinn has rejoined the firm’s Melbourne team.
AAR currently has two partners and six additional lawyers in Hong Kong, and a partner, special counsel and five lawyers in Shanghai. Ewen Crouch, executive partner in charge of the Asia Pacific offices, said the intention is to boost both teams by at least 50 per cent during the next two years.
Hess will stay in Hong Kong for a minimum of four years. He will continue with communications and regulatory work while also handling a wider corporate portfolio.
“Our practice in the region is particularly sector-specific, and in that regard, Don will be a very important part of the development,” said Crouch. “We were initially looking for a relocation candidate, but when we saw Don we felt it was better for the practice of the firm, and the Hong Kong office in particular, to bring him into that role.
“He brings with him a formidable reputation, and we would expect that, within the Hong Kong market, there’s a substantial number of opportunities.”
Hess, who began his career with Hedderwick Fookes & Alston (now AAR), filled a number of roles within the Australian government before joining Pillsbury Madison & Sutro (now Pillsbury Winthrop) in 1987. In 1994, after stints in the firm’s San Francisco and Los Angeles offices, he jointly founded Pillsbury’s Hong Kong practice.
In 1997 he was hired by Cable & Wireless and immediately seconded as company secretary and director of legal affairs to Hong Kong Telecommunications, subsequently renamed Cable & Wireless HKT. Following PCCW’s August 2000 acquisition of Cable & Wireless HKT, Hess became company secretary and general counsel of legal and regulatory affairs with the newly merged entity.
At the end of 2001, after finalising projects such as the refinancing of a $12bn (A$23bn/£8.5bn) debt obtained by PCCW for the HKT acquisition, Hess gave notice of his resignation to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. His role has since been divided between three members of the PCCW legal team.
Hess said he considered a number of roles before deciding on AAR, but admits that part of the incentive to join came from the knowledge that he would be rejoining the firm he trained with.
“It’s a top-calibre firm with top-calibre people, and I think there was a little bit of returning home,” he said. “Most importantly, the firm is making what I think is really a new beginning in Asia. It’s an opportunity to build something that I hope will be successful.
“Because of Australia’s experience in the communications sector, Australian lawyers generally have a good edge on working in that market, and I’d hope that in time we’ll be able to differentiate ourselves and stand ahead of the pack.”
AAR has also announced plans to grow its Singapore operation. On 1 May, the firm and its UK best friend Slaughter and May will formally launch their joint office in the country, and Crouch says it is likely that the team will grow further.