Stephen Boughton

Abigail Townsend meets Linklaters partner Stephen Boughton, who advised SmithKline Beecham on one of the world’s biggest mergers

Being at the centre of one of the largest ever mergers – and one of the most profitable for the advisers – is having no discernible affect on Linklaters & Alliance corporate finance partner Stephen Boughton.

He may well have led the firm’s team on behalf of long-term client SmithKline Beecham, but the day after the company’s merger with Glaxo Wellcome was announced, Boughton could be found walking his dog while waiting to visit his daughter’s school.

Boughton must have a feeling of deja vu – he was involved in the original attempt by the two pharmaceutical giants to get together a couple of years ago.

But before the talks broke down, Boughton was involved in a near-fatal car accident which took him out of the legal market for almost a year.

The crash left him with a fractured skull and only partial vision. He says: “My entire face had to be reconstructed.” Although he is now fully recovered he has lost his sense of smell, a problem he shrugs off. “If you have to lose a sense then I would rather lose that over taste, which would be boring,” he says.

The first he heard of the merger collapse was on the radio after coming out of hospital. He says: “My reaction was not a usual one. I was extremely lucky to be alive so in the nicest possible way work was the last thing on my mind.”

The SmithKline Beecham/ Glaxo Wellcome merger is, at £114bn, one of the world’s largest and the biggest ever in the UK.

But Boughton claims the number of noughts is insignificant to him. “It is always very hit and miss,” he says.

“You could take a couple of noughts off this one and it would not be a very big deal but the workload would very much be the same. The work you have to do is not dependent on the amount of noughts.”

The advisers were acutely aware of the previous merger attempt. All of them worked on the first bid and this merger attempt could not fail.

Boughton says to fail twice would have been “careless”. He adds: “Nobody could afford to get the thing up and running again and for it not to work.”

However, it seems that Boughton takes this type of pressure in his stride.

Sullivan & Cromwell partner Richard Morrissey says: “I never like to say nice things about our competitors but Stephen is an excellent lawyer – diligent and thorough. He is also a nice guy and I don’t think anyone would disagree with that.”

Rowe & Maw corporate partner Mark Walker adds: “Stephen is extremely professional. He is certainly very thorough.”

While Boughton was incapable of fee-earning due to the accident, Linklaters paid him a profit share. A loyalty faithfully returned by Boughton.

He joined the firm in 1978 as a trainee and has stayed with it ever since, except for a minor deviation.

In 1981 he got stuck in New York while flying home from a holiday in Bermuda. He stayed with a friend while waiting for a flight to London and fell in love with the city.

On the recommendation of Linklaters partner Mark Shelton, Boughton joined Sullivan & Cromwell’s New York office in 1982 as an associate.

Although he does not regret his year in New York, the pressure and culture of US firms eventually proved too much.

“You have to work pretty hard in London but there seemed to be a more unnerving pressure among the associates to slog and try and get partnership. A London career was what I wanted.”

So in 1983 he returned to London and Linklaters, making partner in 1986. He is adamant he is not going anywhere else. He says: “I get calls from head-hunters saying ‘do you want to work for a US firm?’ but I enjoy what I do and I enjoy doing it here.”

Linklaters is no doubt grateful for this loyalty. The SmithKline Beecham merger is expected to create a £200m fees pool for the various advisers involved. City sources believe Linklaters, and Glaxo Wellcome’s firm Slaughter and May, could be in line for fees in the region of £15m each.

Boughton’s only comment on fees is to say that the firm is still discussing payment levels with the client. He also shows no excitement about leading a team of such prolific fee-earners.

He professes to no real interests outside of his family. Push him on any hobbies and he admits to enjoying running. He is entering the London Marathon this April, but says: “I’m doing it because my wife says I’m getting fat.”

Boughton says he will stay at Linklaters until he no longer enjoys his job, at which point he will retire. Though what retirement will bring, he does not know.

That is not to say that he has not thought about it. He just has not thought about it that much.
Stephen Boughton
Corporate finance partner