WHEN entering the office of Allen & Overy’s new head of corporate law Richard Cranfield, it is instantly obvious that the man is a traditionalist.
The walls of his modern office in the heart of the City are adorned with military pictures and a set of red deer antlers which would not be out of place on the set of a 19th century costume drama.
Even when Cranfield begins talking about himself, he does nothing to dispel this first impression.
He was educated at Winchester College and read economics and law at Cambridge, joining A&O in 1978 because his father served in the Second World War with two of the firm’s partners.
“I only applied to A&O,” he says proudly.
Qualifying in 1980, Cranfield became a partner in 1985, which led to him heading up huge deals, notably the Department of Trade and Industry’s privatisation of British Energy from 1995 to 1996.
The deal left a lasting impression on him. “It was the first privatisation I had done,” he says. “It took 15 months and was all-consuming.”
But now he has been passed the baton of heading A&O’s corporate department under the firm’s new senior partner, Guy Beringer.
Both men, with banking partner Philip Wood, campaigned against Bill Tudor John – who had been senior partner since 1994 – in the recent A&O elections.
And in a shock result last month, Beringer won the election.
Now Cranfield is filling Beringer’s old role of head of corporate while Beringer, who is senior partner elect, prepares to take up his position in May 2000.
Cranfield refuses to be drawn on the details of the election or his own appointment, but he says: “I am more than happy to be head of corporate. It is a logical step in one’s career path.”
He says this is due, in part, to him being a member of a corporate management group which is made up of three to four partners, a human resources employee and a financial expert.
But Cranfield refuses to detail the group’s purpose and will not disclose the names of other people in the group or their roles.
However, his reputation in the marketplace is not as high profile as some may expect for the head of one of the UK’s top corporate departments.
A leading corporate partner at another magic circle firm says: “I know Guy Beringer and Alan Paul and I was surprised that Alan Paul did not end up as head of corporate.
“He has such a fantastic reputation outside the firm. He is great competition for us.
He adds: “David Wootton is someone who may also have been in the running.
“But I don’t think he would have been interested. Him, and maybe Alan, are too interested in transactions. Heading up a department is a totally different life.”
In keeping with Cranfield’s traditional outlook he says he will not change a great deal of what Beringer instituted while he was head of corporate. But he does intend to raise the profile of his new department.
He says: “I think the corporate department has come a long way in the last few years.
“There is a huge corporate finance boom, but when you look at league tables they show we have done more deals than anyone else.”
For example, he claims A&O has worked on 92 corporate deals in comparison to the second-largest number of 83 at Linklaters & Alliance.
Cranfield says: “I am taking over at a good time. But people’s views about things take time to catch on. A few years ago we were not generally as strong in corporate finance but now we are.”
Cranfield says he is focusing on expanding and integrating A&O’s corporate presence across Europe, citing the firm’s agreed merger with the Amsterdam and Luxembourg offices of Benelux firm Loeff Claeys Verbeke in October as the latest move in this strategy.
He adds: “We will continue to work on our investment banking and our corporate client base.
“As we become cross-border that gives us a huge opportunity to acquire non-UK corporate clients and impact our profile on investment banks.”
But he says that he sees the US as an area that A&O needs to stamp its corporate presence on more firmly.
“In the US building our capacity is crucial to our corporate finance practice.
“We are particularly interested in the growing equity market. Every equity transaction has a US angle,” he says.
While Cranfield will not discuss firm strategy in this area, he concedes that competition is stiff. He says: “We compete head on with other magic circle firms and high quality US practices.”
Cranfield says that he believes he was chosen because of his energetic desire to get things done.
Though he may be happy with the trappings of tradition, in order to get things done, Cranfield may have to embrace a more modern approach.
Head of corporate law
Allen & Overy