Next spring Bingham McCutchen will throw open the doors on its $22.5m shared-services centre in Kentucky, a move the US firm announced in September this year.
By that time up to 250 back office staff – and their families – will have decided whether to up sticks and relocate to the so-called ‘Horse Capital of the World’, or quit Bingham for good.
The person charged with overseeing the mammoth project of launching the centre, along with handling the and sensitivities involved in the transition of Bingham’s back-room staff, is the firm’s chief operating officer, Tracee Whitley. And as the firm’s financial year nears its end, so too the deadline for Bingham’s staff to decide whether to move to Lexington or leave the firm they have worked at in many cases for years rapidly approaches.
The hard-nosed business decision of setting up the shared-services centre, which echoes other initiatives such as Allen & Overy and Herbert Smith Freehills’ operations in Belfast, is providing Whitley with one of the biggest challenges of her career.
So far there is no indication as to how many current Bingham support staff will ultimately relocate, but Whitley says by the end of this year the picture should be clearer.
“It’s good that people are taking their time,” says Whitley. “To a person the feedback we’ve had is that people are very pleased with the choice of Lexington and now the question is whether it is the right move for them and their family.”
Bingham, clearly, is going the extra yard to sell the idea of a Lexington move internally.
“For the people whose positions are impacted we’ve set up pre-decision visit weekends to Lexington with events, panel sessions providing information, school and housing visits and so on,” adds Whitley. “We expect people to start making their decisions over the next few weeks.”
Once fully staffed Bingham’s new centre will bring together administrative support staff positions from a range of professional disciplines, including finance and accounting, human resources, information technology, knowledge services, marketing, operations, and risk management.
Bingham’s move, which will inject jobs and dollars into the local community, has certainly gone down well with the public sector officials in Lexington and Kentucky.
“We couldn’t be more excited about [Bingham’s] decision to come to Kentucky,” said Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear. “The choice to locate here says a lot about our business-friendly climate, ideal location and valuable workforce.”
“Local and state official have been very helpful, they very much understand public private partnerships,” confirmed Whitley. “They made themselves available, they were in constant conversation, and offered incentives packages. Their line was, ‘it’s our job to provide what you need, you’re providing jobs to this economy”. What I appreciated most was their maintaining accessibility.”
In the current economic climate it’s hard to argue with the business argument of setting up a shared-services centre. And for any firm that reaches a certain size, particularly if that scale has been reached via merger, it is increasingly looking like a must. Over the past 11 years Bingham has merged with or taken over 11 firms, opening international offices along the way. Whitley says it had reached a critical point after the McKee Nelson deal in 2009 and while it tried combining back-office functions where it could, increasingly a single-site solution looked like the most effective fit.
Couple that with the fact that after the meltdown of 2008 many firms took more significant looks at their back office cost base and the writing increasingly looked to be on the wall. Expect other firms to follow suit.