Cushman & Wakefield is the world’s largest private real estate business. In December last year Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison client IFIL Investments valued the company at $975m (£483.98m) when it paid $563m (£279.47m) to replace Rockefeller Group International as the controlling shareholder.
Executive officer and European counsel Ben Bennett joined the business in 2003 after five years at Herbert Smith and a further five years away from the legal profession, taking on roles including panel secretary for the London International Financial Futures Exchange (Liffe).
“I was in charge of disciplining the traders,” he says. “It was an interesting experience, let’s just put it that way.”
While working at Liffe, the exchange sponsored him to do an MBA, a qualification he says was essential in winning his job at Cushman in 2003. “They wouldn’t have recruited me if I wasn’t a lawyer, but they also wouldn’t have recruited me if I didn’t have an MBA,” he says. “I joined because it gave me more of an opportunity to not only do the legal disputes, but to do the business side of things too.”
Bennett’s team consists of just two other lawyers and a compliance officer in London, plus five lawyers in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (Emea) region.
“There’s a lot of form there [Continental Europe],” he explains. “You always have to have the right pieces of paper in place, even if they don’t necessarily add that much to things.”
Bennett says there has been “a change in the property world” in recent times. Cushman has doubled turnover in the last five years and investors have recognised that real estate is now a mainstream asset class.
Riding high on this expansion have been Lovells and Pinsent Masons, which are Cushman’s primary firms in the Emea region. However, Bennett put the firms on alert in late May when he announced plans to conduct a review of the company’s Emea advisers (The Lawyer, 28 May).
“We’re trying to be more coordinated. We want to make sure that we’re maximising our spend and getting economies of scale and we’ll drop firms where the relationships aren’t strong,” he warns.
Cushman is also diversifying its Emea business into hotels and leisure, fund management to provide access to property, and providing advice to hotel operators on residential sites.
“If you’re looking for a flat on the Bulgarian coast, we probably know someone willing to provide it,” he says.
Cushman has opened offices in Finland and the Ukraine in recent months, as well as buying out a business in Romania. Bennett says that, while advisers could be either international firms or capable local firms, he is not prepared to pay London rates for work in the Ukraine.
“We use local firms in some of our offices and as the business expands we need our lawyers to keep pace with us, and if local firms aren’t able to do that then any alternative has to be cost-effective. We’ll negotiate discounts and expect firms to be consistent.”
Still, it is not all bad news. Even if firms have to accept lower rates for the work, it looks as if there will be plenty of it.
“The industry’s consolidating and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were major acquisitions or joint ventures,” Bennett predicts. “We’ll also continue to integrate all our acquisitions globally.”
In the same way that Cushman’s business has doubled in the past five years, Bennett expects it to double again in the next five years.
“And our law firms are going to be essential to doing that,” he emphasises.
Executive officer and European counsel
Cushman & Wakefield
|Organisation:||Cushman & Wakefield|
|Name :||Ben Bennett|
|Title:||Executive officer and European counsel|
|Turnover:||£212m for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (Emea)|
|Legal spend:||Approx £500,000 (Emea)|
|Legal capability:||10 (five in UK, five in Emea)|
Chief operating officer for Emea Philip Ingleby in the UK and executive vice-president, global general counsel and secretary Kenneth Singleton in the US
|Main law firms:||Allen & Overy, Cobbetts, Lovells, Norton Rose, Pinsent Masons, Travers Smith|
|Ben Bennett ‘s CV:||