It is not usual for a chief executive to sit in on and interject in a profile interview with his firm’s new senior partner. But then Stephenson Harwood is not your usual firm. For senior partner Tony Scales and chief executive John Pike are keen to seize the opportunity to improve the firm’s shipping reputation.
Scales has been head of corporate at Stephenson Harwood for three years and current clients include Capital Corporation, Wate and Everton Football Club. He points out that unlike former senior partner David Slade, who has moved to the firm’s office in Piraeus, Greece, he is not a “shipper” – of a turnover of u50m, only 17 per cent is from shipping.
However, he shirks a suggestion that his promotion means a change in direction for the firm: “I will certainly come up with a few ideas of my own. They may be different from David’s. But not necessarily so.”
Pike adds that the firm’s commitment to shipping is as strong as ever, referring to The Lawyer’s revelation last week that a Wilde Sapte shipping partner is joining the firm.
Pike and Scales have been friends since Pike joined the firm from Slaughter and May 12 years ago. They also confess to a “mutual competitiveness”. In particular, Scales admits to “a certain obstinacy”, adding: “I don’t like being beaten.” Pike elaborates: “It’s a grit and determination you don’t notice initially.”
Scales attended the same Yorkshire school as Will Carling before studying law at Oxford. He then disappeared to California for a gap year teaching French, Maths and Latin. He trained at Coward Chance before it merged to become Clifford Chance. But he wasn’t completely at ease in his role – “I wasn’t convinced I was cut out for the workload I was doing there,” is how he puts it – and in 1972 he left for Stephenson Harwood.
If his 27-year tenure at the firm is anything to judge by, Scales is convinced by Stephenson Harwood. And not just in London, since he has also practised abroad.
The firm’s international reach stretches into the Far East and Europe and Scales spent four years in Hong Kong as well as a stint in Kuwait “when fires were still raging. It was very dramatic”.
Returning to England, his area of practice took a change of focus. “You come back after four and a half years and you have rather an empty desk so you’ve got to find new things to do,” he says. So he put regulatory work behind him in favour of transaction work.
But although Scales is now senior partner he has no intention of stopping fee earning. “How much time I shall have to devote to that depends upon how the role of senior partner develops, because that’s very much a question of what you make of this particular role,” he says.
Of his role, Scales says he is the chairman to Pike’s chief executive. “I have to listen to people, go and talk to people, make myself known to people internally,” he explains.
And listen he has. Scales began a review of clients’ satisfaction with the firm three months before becoming senior partner. “Each client has its own expectations of the service it should receive from its lawyers. We have to know what they are and exceed them,” he says. He expects to learn the results in six months.
Scales has already stamped his mark as senior partner but the election for the post had to go to a second round. “Not because of any antagonism,” Scales and Pike are quick to explain. “It’s not a job that people would want to fight tooth and nail for,” Scales says.
With so much already achieved, and so much more planned, he’d be surprised.