Chairman candidates emerge as Ashurst merger imminent

Ashurst’s London litigation partner Ben Tidswell will run for the newly created chairman position, alongside current senior partner Charlie Geffen, as the firm readies for the Australian merger vote.

Ashurst Australia, formerly Blake Dawson, has also put forward its candidate for the chairman position, which will replace the senior partner position as the top managerial role of the merged firm. Sydney-based competition and consumer protection partner Peter Armitage is said to be the contender from the Australian arm.

It is understood that the two sides’ partners are set to vote on the proposed full financial merger by the end of this week, Thursday (26 September) is being widely tipped as the voting date, followed by the chairman election, which will last for two weeks.

Ashurst and legacy Blake Dawson confirmed a tie-up in September 2011 planning to merge by 2014 (26 September 2011). The combination took effect on 1 March 2012 and saw Blake Dawson change its name to Ashurst Australia with the firms combining Asian operations.

In June, Ashurst decided to bring forward the timetable for the proposed full financial integration from 2014 to this year. The full merger, if voted through, would see all partners at both firms on a single managed lockstep with a single global profit pool (28 June 2013 ).

A 75 per cent threshold has been set by both sides for the vote to be successful. Insiders suggest that the merger “is very likely to go through”.

The merged firm will also install a vice-chairman position, which will be decided after the chairman election (11 July 2013).

Tidswell and Armitage both have strong followings within their respective firms. One source described Tidswell as a “popular chap” and another added that he was “a very strong candidate who is in with a shot”.

In Australia, colleagues also generally regarded Armitage as an “outstanding lawyer” and “very likeable”.

Ashurst declined to comment on the specific candidates, but a spokesperson said: “It’s normal to have a democratic election for the firm’s management positions.”

The new global board would have 14 members in total, also including the firm’s managing partner, four elected legacy Ashurst LLP partners, an elected Asia partner and three elected legacy Ashurst Australia partners.

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 board’s non-voting CFO (29 April 2013).

Other management roles will remain broadly in line with the current set up, with current managing partner James Collis taking the global managing partner role and Ashurst Australia’s standing managing partner John Carrington maintaining his position at the head of the firm’s Australian practice. Singapore-based Matthew Bubb will continue in his role as Asia managing partner.

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.

Corporate, commercial and competition will be led by London-based global corporate head Stephen Lloyd, and Sydney-based corporate partner Phil Breden.

Disputes, intellectual property and employment will be jointly led by London-based head of disputes Simon Bromwich and the Sydney-based leader of the firm’s Australian IP, competition and technology group Lisa Ritson.

Current global head of energy, transport and infrastructure Mark Elsey in London will lead the energy, resources, real estate and infrastructure line alongside Perth-based head of energy and resources Geoff Gishubl. Finance will be co-led by Paris-based partner Laurent Mabilat and banking and finance partner Paul Jenkins in Sydney. 

Energy partners Tony Denholder in Brisbane, and Logan Mair in London will become client partners, responsible for the development and implementation of Ashurst’s global client strategy. 

Geffen said, at the time, the firm is moving towards integration “step by step”, announcing in a statement: “The management structure and team we have put in place reflects the ambition of the firm and gives us a strong global platform to achieve our strategy and vision for the merged firm. Our new structure will ensure that we operate as efficiently as possible and will help us to deliver excellence in client service.”