Pinsents’ outgoing MP David Ryan: “I thought I couldn’t get any busier”

David Ryan is more or less an institution at Pinsent Masons. During his 15 year tenure as the firm’s managing partner, he has led its transformation from a 134-partner regional practice into a 380-partner global outfit.

But, having spent all that time in management without facing a contested election, the managing partner is finally relinquishing his role (24 October 2014). 

The decision marks a landmark juncture for Pinsents, which just last month ushered in Richard Foley as its first new senior partner in nine years – replacing Ryan’s close ally Chris Mullen (30 June 2014). 

You might think that some fresh blood at the top of the firm would hail the start of a grand new era for Pinsents. However, Ryan has made it clear that he has no intention of loosening his focus on firm strategy when his term draws to a close on 30 April 2015. 

“Since I took the decision to step down I’ve been busier than I was before,” said Ryan. “And I thought I couldn’t get any busier.”

David Ryan

He insists that he’ll be heavily involved in driving through the firm’s existing strategy – not just in the transition phase as new management settles in, but moving beyond it. 

“As of midnight on 30 April, I’ll be handing over to someone else but it won’t happen overnight. I don’t know how long it will take and we haven’t put any set period on it,” he notes. 

“There are a lot of specific projects that need to happen, and it’d be risky for the business to hand them all over to a new managing partner and management team immediately if we want to keep the same pace,” he notes. “There’s no sense of pausing for breath. If anything, we’re ramping up.”

Ryan says that he doesn’t currently have a title in mind for his new post, and that his list of roles is yet to be finalised. However, if one thing looks certain, it’s that he will continue to play a major role in pushing forward the firm’s recently refreshed strategy that takes it through to 2020. 

The programme, which was reviewed over the summer and is currently being thrust into motion, is largely based around growing the firm off the back of its core global sectors – energy and natural resources, advanced manufacturing and technology services, infrastructure and financial services. 

It extends Pinsents’ former strategy, unveiled in 2007, to become a firm with truly international reach – instead looking to become a firm with international reach that excels in particular sectors. 

“Our sector approach dates back to the 1990s, but we’re putting a greater emphasis on going to market through those sectors,” Ryan says. 

“My job at the moment is to ensure that all the things that we plan to do, that are encapsulated in our strategy review, happen. I’m determined that the elections won’t stop us making progress,” he says. 

But what happens if his successor has a different strategy in mind? That the firm’s new managing partner – who will be either property head Adrian Barlow, finance chief John Cleland or former McGrigors managing partner Richard Masters – has his own views on the firm’s road to expansion isn’t outside the realm of possibility (5 November 2014). 

Market sources have previously suggested that some factions within the firm are in favour of a more all or nothing approach – pouring investment into overseas offices, or focusing on the firm’s bench closer to home. 

“My default position is that people have differing views, but I’m a very adaptable person,” Ryan says. “They might be different in their views but the firm has an agreed strategy.” 

Perhaps the changes taking place at Pinsent Masons will be more evolutionary than revolutionary. However, a change at the helm, for the first time in the best part of a decade, might just be the breath of fresh air that many of the firm’s partners have been seeking.

And given Ryan’s successful record of steering Pinsents directly into the upper echelons of the UK’s mid-tier, his watchful eye might just be welcomed by his successor.