Contenders emerge to take Freshfields London corporate crown

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is about to kickstart the hunt for a London corporate head with former Asia managing partner Simon Marchant and deal-maker Julian Makin emerging as early frontrunners.

The consultation process to appoint a new leader will kick off in the next few weeks with the aim of filling the position by mid June, when Julian Long will replace Mark Rawlinson as City chief (4 March 2011).

Insiders said Makin was a popular choice, he is a highly regarded corporate partner with strong contacts in City and investment banks. As co-head of the firm’s mining and metals team he acted on Xstrata’s merger with Glencore in 2013 (7 January 2013) but has also led high-profile finance deals.

The partner also advised bookrunner UBS, BoA Merril Lynch and UKFI privatisation strategy adviser JP Morgan on the sale of the government’s 6 per cent stake in Lloyds last year (17 September 2013).

Sources said that Makin’s equity and debt capital markets experience and work on energy IPOs gave him strong external crebility. One commented: “In the past we’ve gone for people who have a high profile in the market and therefore a degree of influence within the firm.”

However internal credibility is also key to the race and in Marchant, sources said they saw a partner with powerful leadership experience as well as client contacts. The partner is this month coming to the end of his two-year term as London M&A co-head, a role he took on in 2012 (1 March 2012) and has seen him working closely with outgoing chief Long.

Marchant and TMT co-head Ben Spiers were the first to be put into the M&A role following Marchant’s return from Hong Kong in 2011 (10 January 2011). Marchant had spent two years as Asia managing partner from 2009 and previously held a position on the corporate practice’s business management team. 

The end to his M&A term comes to an end in April, putting him at the front of the queue for London corporate head. He also has high-profile clients including G4S and led on the firm’s hefty mandate on British engineering and project management company Amec’s $3.2bn (£1.9bn) purchase of Foster Wheeler last month (10 February 2014).

Marchant comes from corporate group D, though one source said the department was “not tribal” about its attitude towards the group’s four divisions.

“Julian is a consensus builder and Simon is more directional,” said one source, while another added: “I suspect Simon is the strongest candidate because of his leadership roles.”

Another early contender is corporate partner and financial investors sector group co-head David Higgins. However, sources said it was unlikely he would give up his current position. 

London Stock Exchange partner Andrew Hutchings is a potential young gun contender. The client is a key one to the firm and as a former corporate group leader Hutchings is percieved to be in with a chance.

He was a senior associate when the firm first acted on the Exchange’s £1.1bn IPO back in 2001 (18 November 2013) and has been its best friend ever since.

Every partner in the corporate team will get their chance to put forward candidates over the next few months. The firm does not conduct formal votes but will appoint one or two partners from the corporate team to interview every corporate partner over the next couple of months and glean the favourite. Partners take it in turns to head up the consultation process.

Sources said the next candidate would have big shoes to fill. Partners are understood to have been sad to see Long stand down but accepted that it was a job “he couldn’t turn down”. Long has only been in the corporate role for three years, as has London chief Mark Rawlinson, who is understood to have put a personal one-term limit on his time in the top job before handing it onto a successor.