Ashurst’s newly-elected chairman Ben Tidswell plans to consolidate the firm’s current international footprint and push for profit growth as he prepares to take the helm from the firm’s current senior partner Charlie Geffen.
“If you stand back, you can see there is a strong likelihood there’ll be some very powerful firms that’ll emerge at the top,” he said. “A group of firms will dominate the international market, and our challenge is to make sure we are one of them.”
The litigator secured more votes than either incumbent senior partner Charlie Geffen and Sydney-based contender Peter Armitage to become the firm’s first ever chairman. Tidswell will now hold the chairman role for a five-year term once it takes effect on 1 November 2013, working alongside global managing partner James Collis.
While Geffen has been reported to have been openly consulting with partners about a potential tie-up with a US firm, Tidswell refused to be drawn on the matter. “The US is an obvious question, but it’s not the only one,” he said, insisting that consolidation in Asia-Pacific is a key business strategy. Partners at the firm voted in favour of full financial integration with merger partners Ashurst Australia just last month (26 October 2013).
“Closer to home, Europe is really important to us as a business,” he added. “We’ve made huge advances in Europe through organic growth, and we’ll continue to invest and build those out. The region is a big priority to us.”
Ashurst has witnessed its profitability drop in recent years, with profit per equity partner (PEP) tumbling from £1.04m in 2007/08 to £680,000 in 2012/13. Over the past year alone, PEP fell by 9 per cent, from £744,000.
Tidswell hoped that the firm’s new non-exec hires will help bolster profits under his five-year term. Ashurst recently bought former Takeover Panel director general and ex-UBS banker Robert Gillespie, and Commonwealth Bank of Australia chairman David Turner to take up places on its board. It also hired former Allen & Overy chief finance officer Brian Dunlop as its CFO (29 May 2013).
“In my mind profits will come naturally if we have the right offering to current and new clients,” he said. “My job is to be very focussed on making sure the offering is exactly right.”
Many sources close to the firm expressed surprise that Tidswell chose to run for the chairman position against Geffen, who many considered to be a shoo-in for the position. “I think that one always tries to do something for the best interests of the firm,” said Tidswell. “I felt I had something to offer, and it’s good to give partners a choice.”
“I hope people see me as someone who understands the business well,” he concluded. “I hope they consider me to have a good sense of clients and how to interact with them, that I’m a good listener and a fair person with the whole firm’s interests at heart. I hope people think I understand and am good at governance, and that I’m a real motivator who can relate to people and build their confidence.”