Atlas shrugged

After just two months in the job, Atlas Capital’s Alex Wise may appear to have the weight of the world on his shoulders, but as Emma Vere-Jones reports, he isn’t fazed at all

Alex Wise is the new kid on the block at Atlas Capital. Appointed to the role of legal and compliance director in May this year, one would have thought he might still be finding his feet in the job. But that does not seem to be the case. Wise’s manner is surprisingly in keeping with the atmosphere of the Atlas office, which provides a cool, calm sanctuary from the hubbub of Piccadilly, where the company is based. He is not fazed by any of my questions, despite the fact that he has been in the role for a mere two months.

Atlas is an investment advisory group, with 10 offices worldwide and an international private banking capability called Deltec, which is based in Nassau. The group was formed through the merger of three firms: Soditic Asset Management (established in Geneva in 1984), Atlas Capital (the UK investment advisory group) and Deltec Bank and Trust, one of the Bahamas’ oldest independent private banking organisations.

Although advising both private and institutional clients, the focus is weighted towards institutional clients, which are largely based in Europe, the Middle East and Japan, although private clients are located globally.

Over the last three years, the company has established a presence in New York, Rome, Tokyo and most recently in Stockholm. It is this recent growth of the company that has seen it take on board its first legal counsel; and it is the latest acquisition in Stockholm that necessitated Wise being thrown in at the deep end when he first arrived.

“I was brought in on a lot of ongoing projects, one of which was the Swedish acquisition,” says Wise. It has been one of the largest projects on the legal front over the last 12 months, he adds. The group has been in negotiations to purchase Swedish investment house Alterum Fondkommission. The finer details of the deal are still being finalised by external advisers Addleshaw Booth & Co and Swiss firm Lenz & Staehelin.

The job at Atlas is Wise’s first foray into the world of finance, although it is no surprise that he ended up working as a solicitor. Unlike most boys, whose career choices at 13 usually involve fame through sport or rock ‘n’ roll, Wise wanted to be a lawyer. Was this, I suggest, down to the influence of 1980s television series LA Law? “Quite possibly,” he admits with a laugh.

In pursuit of this dream, Wise originally trained as a barrister and was called to the Bar in 1999. However, by that stage he had come to realise that he was already looking for a more commercial focus, so he accordingly retrained as a solicitor. He then spent a year at Herbert Smith, before landing an in-house role at IT company S3.

“I learnt a lot by working at such a well-regarded firm as Herbert Smith,” he says. “But I like the commercial focus and having access to the highest levels of company business. And secondly, I relish the variety and unpredictability of the agreements that I’m asked to advise on; the kind of agreements that arise in the day-to-day running of a business.”

But even while at S3, Wise thought of moving fields. “I’d been thinking of moving into finance for a while,” he says. “It’s a racy area of law to be in.” So when the opportunity at Atlas came up, he grabbed it.

So apart from the Swedish acquisition as a baptism of fire, what else has been occupying Wise’s time? “At the moment I’m advising on employment law in-house – that’s something I was fairly comfortable advising on straight away,” he explains. The rest of his time is largely spent managing the external counsel. Although most work is still outsourced, Wise says he is looking to do more internally.

Regular advisers to the firm are Addleshaw Booth & Co in the UK, Lenz & Staehelin in Switzerland and Carey Langlois in Guernsey. Addleshaws has been the primary adviser to Atlas for several years, with corporate finance partner Tim Bee acting as client contact. “[Addleshaws] advises on all issues in the UK, including corporate and intellectual property. We’ve also instructed them on some employment issues,” says Wise. “They provide us with a full service.”

The company has a similar relationship with Lenz and retains Carey Langlois for legal advice relating to its Guernsey funds.

“In other jurisdictions, where we need specialist advice, we’d use a local firm in that specific jurisdiction,” Wise adds. “I don’t think we’d extend the advisers that we have in our main jurisdictions. They’ve got a good, rounded focus and they’re high quality.”

Wise also spends a large proportion of his time on due diligence. “Due diligence is central to my role in evaluating the legal risk of some of the funds we advise on,” he says.

There are three types of funds that Atlas evaluates: those that the firm has already invested in; those that are being closely monitored with a view to investment in the near future; and longer term companies that Atlas keeps an eye on with a view to long-term potential. “There’s a whole world of documentation that goes along with each of these – that’s where the due diligence comes in,” Wise reveals.

Although he is the only in-house counsel located in the UK, the company does have a senior compliance officer in London and compliance officers in its other main jurisdictions – namely, Geneva and the Bahamas. “My time is broadly split between the UK and other parts of Europe, and I also deal a lot with the other compliance officers,” says Wise. Are there any trips to the Nassau office on the cards, I wonder? “I wish,” he laughs. Not yet, at least.

Still, Wise is supposedly the new boy and it is a new role that he is developing. “It’s been a process of both myself and the company finding our feet in terms of having an in-house lawyer,” he agrees. But if the company continues growing at its current rate, finding his feet will cease to be high on his list of priorities. It is more likely that he will be managing Atlas Group’s next acquisition.
Alex Wise
Legal and compliance director
Atlas Capital Group

Organisation Atlas Capital Group
Sector Financial Services
Amount under advice and management $2.8bn (£1.79bn)
Employees 100 worldwide (30 of which are based in London)
Legal capability One in London, plus four compliance officers in various jurisdictions
Legal and compliance director Alex Wise
Reporting to Company secretary Douglas Sharp
Offices Bahamas, Guernsey, Italy, Japan, Jersey, Luxembourg, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US
Main law firms Addleshaw Booth & Co (UK), Carey Langlois (Guernsey) and Lenz & Staehelin (Switzerland), Switzerland