Three international mergers in two years have meant exponential growth for Norton Rose, with new presences in Canada, South Africa and Australia extending the energy practice’s global footprint.
The firm’s global head of energy Simon Currie believes the triple merger has helped raise the practice’s profile and attract lucrative new deals and clients.
“It allows us to have a much larger network,” Currie says. “From an energy point of view, the change in what we can deliver and the exposure we have in the market has been huge.”
Norton Rose merged with prominent Australian practice Deacons at the start of 2010, increasing its reach in major oil and gas projects in Queensland and Western Australia.
The firm added to this on 1 June this year by merging with Ogilvy Renault in Canada and Deneys Reitz in South Africa.
Some dismiss the high-profile deals as an expensive branding exercise – they do not as yet include any combination of finances – but Currie says it is natural to introduce the mergers in stages.
“You have to take it in steps, and in the end it will be a financial merger,” he insists. “The mergers are important because they enable us to pool knowledge and share it around.”
London-based energy partner Richard Metcalf, who recently advised Swiss energy trader Energy Financing Team on a deal with Chinese company Dongfang Electric Corporation that will see a thermal power plant constructed in Republika Srpska (Bosnia and Herzegovina), said it was an example of the complex international deals that could be channelled in light of the mergers.
“Extending our network of Norton Rose offices has given us access to markets to bid for this type of work,” he says.
The firm has also boosted its energy clout with a new office in Hamburg and an association with a practice in Indonesia.
Currie admits a US merger is on the cards as the next major step for the firm.
“It’s really high up the agenda,” he says. “In the longer term we can’t do what we want to do and be where we want to be without having a serious, credible, leading practice in the US. When I go to China they want to do solar and wind in the US.”
The energy head also concedes that securing a Houston presence is one of the top drivers for a transatlantic merger.
“It’s an absolutely key hub,” he says. “We can’t be invisible in Houston – it has to be done – but it’s got to be the right fit. In terms of energy there are quite a few energy firms that would be a great fit for us, but it’s just a question of how they would fit the rest of the firm.”
Renewable energy, particularly wind, has emerged as a key source of new deals for Norton Rose, with its Middle East corporate team advising Abu Dhabi’s government-owned Masdar on its joint venture with E.on for a 50 per cent stake in the London Array offshore wind farm project, one of the world’s largest offshore wind schemes.
“We still do a lot of thermal power, but the difference is you might do two thermal deals in a year if you are lucky compared to about 40 renewables deals,” says Currie. “The deals are smaller, but you get more of them.”
In the wake of its triple merger in Africa, Australia and Canada, the firm aims to take advantage of Chinese, Japanese and South Korean investors’ appetites to invest in these resource-rich regions.
Norton Rose is also looking broadly at Australia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. The firm moved global head of climate change Anthony Hobley from London to Sydney at the start of 2010 to tap into new climate change work in the Asia Pacific region.
“We’re also looking inwardly at Australia,” Metcalf adds. ”Before the merger Deacons did not have a large energy practice, but now we can see significant oil and gas opportunities coming out of Australia.”
Simon Currie, Richard Metcalf, Erol Huseyin, Ashley Wright, Anthony Hobley
Top three sectors
Oil and gas
Top three geographical regions
Project financing of a $1.1bn dam and 513MW hydroelectric power plant in Turkey
Client: Boyabat Elektrik Uretim VE Ticaret, the borrower
Lead partner: Erol Huseyin
Development of world’s first plasma-gasification facility being developed in the UK
Client: Solena Group
Lead partner: Simon Currie
Construction of a 300MW thermal power plant in Republika Srpska
Client: EFT on its deal with Dongfang Electric Corporation
Lead partner:Richard Metcalf