As pretty much every lawyer is fond of pointing out, there is nothing more important than a strong client relationship.
That has certainly proved to be the case for Shearman & Sterling in Germany.
For despite being hit by the defection of its 30-lawyer Mannheim office earlier this year (The Lawyer, 22 April), the firm’s German practice has been gifted a key role on what will undoubtedly prove to be the most important German deal of the year.
Thanks to the strong relationship ;between German managing partner Georg Thoma and Allianz board member Paul Achleitner, Shearman has been handed the mandate to advise the insurer on the sale of Dresdner Bank to Commerzbank.
The relationship between Thoma and Achleitner goes back to the late 1980s, when Thoma was at Düsseldorf law firm Galler Meyer-Landrut and Achleitner was at Goldman Sachs. Their link has proved lucrative beyond the confines of the normal ;lawyer-client relationship.
One former Shearman partner said: “Georg had represented the German government a lot on the privatisation of East German assets. Then he started to act on other privatisations, which Achleitner was advising on, and they got to know each other. Achleitner moved to Allianz in 2000 and that allowed Thoma to get into Allianz, where he didn’t have a relationship before. This has been based on a personal relationship, but it’s expanded to include a lot of other people at Allianz, including the head of M&A, who trusts Georg and likes the team.”
While Achleitner was still at Goldman Sachs he introduced Thoma to German car manufacturer Daimler-Benz, beginning a relationship that has gifted Shearman numerous choice instructions over the years.
Having advised Daimler on its $35bn (£19.61bn) tie-up with US car maker Chrysler in 1998, Thoma’s work for the company included advising on an International Chamber of Commerce arbitration against Canada’s Bombardier as well as guiding DaimlerChrysler Aerospace through the restructuring of the European aerospace industry.
Last year Thoma advised on ;the ;demerger ;of DaimlerChrysler, which saw the company’s US-based Chrysler business sold to private equity house Cerberus.
Although Achleitner had been ;long ;gone ;from Goldman Sachs by last year, the investment bank had a role in the demerger as a financier to Cerberus. Crucially, when the initial merger took place, Goldman Sachs was one of the main financial advisers to the deal.
This story is mirrored in the development of Thoma’s relationship with Allianz. He was introduced to the insurance giant after Achleitner joined in 2000 and advised on its 2001 acquisition of Dresdner Bank.
After acting on several high-profile Allianz deals, such as its 2006 merger with Italy’s Riunione Adriatica di Sicurtà and conversion from a German-listed company to a Societas Europaea ;(European company), Thoma has masterminded the insurer’s disposal of Dresdner.
The e9.8bn (£7.98bn) sale, which Commerzbank is financing through a mixture of cash, shares and the transfer of assets to Allianz, has seen Sullivan & Cromwell land its first instruction from Commerzbank.
In the past, the bank has turned to magic circle firms Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and Slaughter and May best friend Hengeler Mueller.
Sullivan Frankfurt managing partner Wolfgang Feuring, who joined the firm from Freshfields in 2001, is leading the team acting for the bank, with London-based competition partner Juan Rodriquez also giving advice.
Lovells Frankfurt partner Hans-Peter Low is advising on employment issues, while a Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton team headed by New York partner Robert Tortoriello is advising on the US aspects of the deal.
For both Shearman and Sullivan, the transaction is set to generate work for
some time to come, with the two-step deal due to complete by the end of 2009.