SJ Berwin has hired one of Paris’ top private equity teams from Salans Hertzfeld & Heilbronn to set up an office in Paris.
Leading light in the market George Pinkham will join SJ Berwin in March. He brings with him tax lawyer Sylvie Vansteenkiste and former Salans lawyer Jean Goncalves, who is currently working as an in-house tax adviser to GE Medical Systems (Europe).
The new office, initially made up of three partners, will give SJ Berwin a French capability for the first time. Pink-ham’s clients include three of the top private equity houses in France: Financiere Natexis, BNP arm Benexi and Paribas division PAI.
Pinkham says he is joining SJ Berwin because he wants a targeted approach to private equity. “I want to integrate our current strategy into a larger European firm, where hopefully I will be able to put more emphasis on the acquisition side of private equity,” he says.
Unlike SJ Berwin, Salans does not have a German capability and has only a small office in London.
The move leaves Salans with a very small equity funds capability in Paris. Pinkham says: “Paul Morel has done some fund work but his real emphasis is on the transactional side.”
However, Salans’ London managing partner Robert Starr says that the M&A group in Paris will continue to do work for funds. Starr says: “We have a very large M&A team in Paris and we will concentrate in particular on LBO and new economy work.
“We are confident that Pinkham’s departure will not have an adverse financial effect on the firm.”
The move, which comes one month after SJ Berwin opened an office in Munich, is further evidence of the firm’s policy of aggressive European expansion.
The firm’s senior partner David Harrel says it is building its European practice around the corporate enterprise economy. The firm has been publicly looking for opportunities to launch in France for more than two years.
He says: “We are starting with private equity and tax and we will build on those core strengths. In Madrid we started with private equity but we are now starting to grow a pan-European competition practice.”
Harrel says there are plans to expand the Paris office immediately, as well as continuing to build the Frankfurt and Munich practices.
He adds that the firm is also looking at opportunities in Italy and The Netherlands.
France is an important market for European private equity. M&A activity has soared in the past year, making France the third most active country for European M&A, trailing only the UK and Germany.