Palwinder Hare, head of legal, M&A/corporate at the acquisitive Standard Chartered Bank, heads a small but important team. By Gavriel Hollander
Given that the legal team Palwinder Hare heads is a key cog in one of the world’s largest banks’ machinery, it is remarkably small.
As Standard Chartered Bank’s M&A/corporate legal chief, Hare is the transactional go-to guy for the organisation. Yet, despite an eye-wateringly hectic 18 months of dealmaking activity, he gets by with a group of just four lawyers.
Of course, the bank’s full legal capability is much larger, running to some 250 professionals across 15 countries. But it is Hare’s intrepid band that spearheads much of what has made Standard Chartered one of the more acquisitive banks in recent years. In doing so, the team has also snared a nomination for In-House Banking and Financial Services Team of the Year at The Lawyer Awards 2011.
“[Being in] my team gives a good opportunity to cut deals at the front end and get a lot of exposure,” says Hare, highlighting the fact that several members of his team have, over the years, moved into senior positions in the wider legal group. “For us, it’s actually better to have a small team that’s flexible and agile. We can also pull in the lawyers from around the bank.”
Transactional highlights in 2010 included the first listing of a foreign company’s shares in India through an Indian Depository Receipt (IDR) programme – a $530m (£322m) share issue. It also entered into a $500m investment in Agricultural Bank of China to support the mammoth $22bn IPO, simultaneously agreeing a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese bank to ensure ongoing cross-investment.
The end of the year brought a $5.2bn rights issue of Standard Chartered’s own, along with the multi-jurisdictional acquisition of Barclays’ African custody business, which involved the transfer of $6.2bn of assets under custody.
It is a roll call of deals of which many a private practice corporate department would be proud. And, in an unstable environment, Hare is understandably pleased with the achievement.
“When I look back at the difficult times we’ve had, at the beginning of last year we were wondering what would happen,” he says, reflecting on his team’s stellar 2010. “But we ended up doing 15 transactions, including disposals. Just in the three and a half years I’ve been here we’ve been doing about a deal a month.”
But Hare, who joined from his previous role of European legal head at Motorola in September 2007, should be used to the hectic nature of his job. Within days of starting he was embroiled in the headline-grabbing purchase of American Express Bank – a deal that helped cement Standard Chartered’s burgeoning reputation as a serious global player.
“It was an initiation by fire,” laughs Hare, recalling his early days at the bank. “I joined on a Tuesday morning and on the Friday I was in New York on the deal team. In the midst of all that there was Northern Rock.”
He admits it was not exactly what he envisaged when he first considered entering the banking sector.
“When I was looking around [for jobs] I thought it was a fairly stable environment,” he continues. “I didn’t realise there would be the kind of turmoil the financial crisis brought. But for me, it wasn’t that different from the Motorola days, with the dotcom bubble.”
While Hare’s London, Hong Kong and Singapore-based team takes up as much of the slack as possible on its transactional workload, external counsel are essential.
The bank recently reappointed its six-firm international panel, but swiftly announced that an overhaul of the roster was in the offing. As ever in the current climate, and especially with the levels of work any firm on the bank’s panel can expect to receive, price is important.
“We drive a hard bargain,” says Hare. “When you’re looking at so many transactions you tend to be able to negotiate.”
Allen & Overy, Baker & McKenzie and Slaughter and May have supported Hare’s team consistently on the recent run of deals, but despite working almost as if he and his team were part of a City M&A practice, he does not miss the world of private practice.
“It’s a tough role that we have and we have to work hard, but it’s much more fun and intellectually challenging,” he explains. “You can build a greater network of contacts and see deals through from start to finish.”
If Hare’s experience proves anything it is that working in-house and being a ravenous dealmaker are no longer mutually exclusive.
Name: Palwinder Hare
Organisation: Standard Chartered Bank
Position: Head of legal, M&A/corporate
Reporting to: Group legal head Susan Adams
Turnover: $16bn (£9.68bn)
Legal spend: £100m
Legal capability:250 lawyers in 15 countries