Never say never, but the corporate technology market is still miles off the peak of 2000. Despite Wolfson’s planned float later this month and the legions of over-optimistic TMT lawyers singing their version of England’s footy anthem, “it’s coming back, it’s coming back, tech is coming back”, the deals are still taking ages and the valuations are still rock-bottom.
So, no surprise that two of the pillars of the TMT market – Taylor Wessing and Olswang – have shifted their strategies to reflect the downturn. Taylor Wessing is still to reveal the results of its strategic review (expected in November), but the exodus of five IT partners this year (the latest, Kiran Sandford, departs on 13 October for Mishcons) shows just how far the firm has moved away from focusing on pure IT.
Its focus, as stated in our feature ‘Parallel Lines’ on page 20 and repeated like a mantra by the firm’s partners, is “technology in its broadest sense”. The acquisitions by both firms of former Garretts offices last year, explored in the feature, is emblematic of their different approaches. Taylor Wessing’s Cambridge office was originally planned three years ago. Olswang’s deal took two weeks.
Internationally, though, Taylor Wessing’s long-term strategy to become a pan-European force remains intact. Its deal, announced this week, to launch in Paris with a team from Landwell, is the latest part of the jigsaw.
Contrast that with Olswang. It has a strategic plan that can be summed up in one word: opportunity. Its international strategy has always been ‘best friends’, but Jonny Goldstein, the deal-doer supreme, will never rule out snapping up a team abroad if the right opportunity pops up. That step to Reading and this year’s DJ Freeman takeover broadened its focus to TMT and property (not, as we originally thought, TM tea and Proper tea).
The deals also ramp up the firm’s turnover to an estimated overseas expansion-enabling £60m. This magic number is a credible platform to attack Europe. It may not be on the agenda at present – after all, profits have only just started to creep up again, and anyway, Olswang is not the place to have an agenda. It has a shopping list. But if that shopping list includes critical mass, client need, reputation and funds for adequate investment, then the firm is in a far better position to tick those boxes now than it was this time last year. Time to find the right people.