Addleshaw Goddard’s John Joyce: “I’m happy with conflict”

The down-to-earth approach of Addleshaw Goddard’s new managing partner John Joyce may be just what his firm needs.

When Joyce took up the reins as managing partner at Addleshaw Goddard the firm appeared to be juddering from one negative story to the next, be that embarrassing internal accounting errors or a sense of a mounting loss of confidence in its leadership.

Numerous sources reported rising tension in the partnership while the exit of longstanding financial director Martin Gaskin compounded the impression of a firm where not everything was locked down and stable.

Shortly after these stories, Joyce’s predecessor Paul Devitt stood down a year before the end of his tenure. (17 March 2014)

Though Devitt’s strengths as a lawyer were never in question his popularity as a leader was not so clear cut. The poster boy of a certain Harvard management style, his textbook approach to driving the firm forward lacked humanity, according to many sources, and cost him support when he needed it most.

Joyce is determined to turn around any lingering negative perceptions about Addleshaws and its management although, with his firm having just posted a rather mediocre set of 2013/14 results (turnover rose 3 per cent from £166.5m to £171.4m but net profit dropped by 11 per cent from £44.9m to £39.8m (9 June 2014)), he admits his firm needs “to get smarter and maximise our potential”.

Joyce took over as managing partner in May. He immediately set about reforming Addleshaws’ management boards, a process that had kicked off before the election.

The changes came as the firm announced its financials and the drop in net profit, attributable in part to pay-outs to partners that had been managed out in the lead up to the elections.

The changes to the management structure streamlined the number of partners in fee-earning roles and gave business services managers a direct line to the executive.

The installation of construction specialist Andrew Greaves and Hong Kong office head Nigel Francis as Gulf and Asia regional office heads respectively is a Joyce initiative.

Hinting that growth has failed to meet expectations in its foreign offices, Joyce says the strategy for the local leadership teams is for them to be, ”in a position to recommend how we can meet the market’s needs”.

Shaking up the management and clearing out dead wood aside, his next big task is overhauling the firm’s strategy, with the new focus due to be rolled out after a consultation process and the partner conference in November.

Joyce knows this is an opportunity to make a critical turning point in the fortunes and exterior perceptions of the firm.

“We need to ask why it is that we didn’t end up where we wanted to be at the end of the last strategy,” he says, bluntly. “We won’t be turning our back on any of the successful initiatives from the last strategy, but they will not solely be what’s driving this one.”

Joyce is hazy on why the last strategy fell short. He begins by being adamant that rifts in the partnership and the firm’s widely perceived north-south divide are myths.

Pushed on the matter he concedes that the perception of a divided partnership may exist outside of the firm.

“Was it mentioned in the election process? Yes, it was but I don’t believe it’s there,” he says. “I think people did think there were too many Manchester-based partners in senior positions but is there rivalry? No.”

Joyce has little patience with internal bickering. He knows there’s a job to be done in bringing the firm together but ultimately he insists, “the measure of our success will be in the numbers, we need to find out why our numbers don’t look as competitive as they should do”.

Asked the degree to which partners would be given the chance to feed in to the strategy consultation, he admits, “I don’t know I haven’t done it yet”, vaguely hinting that consultation is a relatively new concept at the firm.

“I don’t think we can have everyone voting on a strategy,” he adds. ”You need a consensus view that everyone will buy into not 51 per cent agree agree and 49 per cent are dead against it”.

So is this ushering in an era where butts will be kicked if people don’t meet expectations?

“I don’t mind conflict, I’m happy with conflict. As an insolvency lawyer you can’t shy away from it. In terms of sorting things out, that’s what you do,” he says.

Joyce is by no means a career manager and admits ending up as a managing partner wasn’t the long-term goal after 25 years as an insolvency lawyer.

“I’ve not done Harvard management courses but I know we’re starting from a point I’m not happy with and we need to get to one we’re all happy with,” he says emphatically.

Likewise, when talking about the firm’s recent management shake-up he says, “I don’t want yes men, I want people with passion and a commercial bone in their body”.