Tidswell beats Geffen to new chairman role at Ashurst

Ashurst partners have elected litigator Ben Tidswell into its newly-formed chairman role, a move that has cost current senior partner, Charlie Geffen, the leadership post he has held since 2008.

Tidswell Ben Ashurst
Newly elected chairman Ben Tidswell

The litigator, who has sat on the firm’s management board since 2007, secured more partner votes than either the incumbent Geffen, or Sydney-based competition and consumer protection partner Peter Armitage who was also nominated for the position.

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.

The vote, which is thought to have taken place via an electronic system between 27 September and 15 October, was part of a wider firm restructuring in the wake of Ashurst’s vote in favour of full financial integration with Ashurst Australia (formerly Blake Dawson) last month (26 September 2013).

The overhaul  has seen Geffen’s current senior partner role scrapped in favour of the chairman role. The firm’s new global board will consist of Collis, Tidswell, four elected legacy Ashurst LLP partners, an elected Asia partner, three elected legacy Ashurst Australia partners, two independent members and a non-voting CFO.

In May, the firm announced that new non-executive directors Robert Gillespie and David Turner are to be the merged firm’s independent board members (29 May 2013), while former Allen & Overy chief finance officer Brian Dunlop has been named as the CFO (29 April 2013). The firm has also introduced a new global divisional structure based along four business lines, each of which will be co-led by one Ashurst and one Ashurst Australia partner (24 September 2013).

Tidswell, Geffen and Armitage are thought to have each distributed manifestos to partners, and spent the last few weeks conducting meetings with partners in smaller groups. Tidswell also travelled to the firm’s Asian and Australian offices last week as part of the election process.

The newly-elected chairman said that he does not expect to make any significant changes to firm strategy, stressing that a key priority is to ensure the firm is in “the division of the global elite”.

He continued: “I’ve been on Charlie’s board since 2008, and the former senior partner Geoffrey Green’s for a year before that. There’ll be no major difference in emphasis. Charlie remains an extremely important and admired partner at the firm.”

Sources hailed Tidswell’s victory as “a phenomenon”, one source commented, “Geffen has always been marmite”. Another claimed: “Ben is a strong man, and he’s more user-friendly than Charlie. But just because he’s personable doesn’t mean he’s a softie”.

Tidswell joined Ashurst in 1993, and became a partner in its dispute resolution team in 2000 with particular expertise in telecommunications and media disputes. His election marks a sea change for the firm, which has been run by two corporate partners since Collis took the managing partner mantle from litigator Simon Bromwich last year.

One source speculated that “having a litigator as chairman means he’ll inevitably highlight that part of the firm”.

Elections for the firm’s new vice chair and board are expected to take place shortly. Seeing as an Ashurst partner has been elected as chairman, the position of vice chair will only be open to candidates from Ashurst Australia.