Niche construction firm Shadbolt & Co closed its Hong Kong office at the end of October, losing two partners. Colin Dodd has gone to Clayton Utz in Sydney and Peter Turner has remained in Hong Kong. The office acted for the Hong Kong airport authority, whose project has now finished. But the 22-partner firm has other offices in Reigate, London, Paris and Athens, with an associated firm operating in Tanzania. So how does a small UK firm develop an international presence of this level in just 10 years?
It certainly helps that senior partner Richard Shadbolt spent 20 years as head of construction at McKenna & Co (now CMS Cameron McKenna). Founded in 1991, Shadbolts started out from Shadbolt's own home until volume dictated a move to premises in Reigate in January 1992. With nearly all of his McKenna clients moving with him, it was not too much of a struggle to develop the practice into a 22-partner team offering full service to construction clients.
In September 2001, the firm opened in Athens following the registration of both Shadbolt and George Rosenberg to the Athens Bar. There is a huge amount of construction and development work to target in Greece due to the Olympic Games in 2004, its accession to the EU and the growing trend towards privatisation.
But while Shadbolt seems to enjoy flexing his international muscles, he is aware of the need to address the balance within the partnership. Having started the firm from scratch with senior lawyers bringing clients with them, he must now broaden the base of the pyramid. The role of associate has been created this year to provide a better career structure and so attract the right people.
Shadbolt wants the firm to expand, but puts the protection of its relationships with the construction industry first. “That includes not just the professionals, but also purchasers of construction services: project owners, governments, contractors, architects and engineers,” says Shadbolt. “We think we're second in size to Masons and we hope to stay at least in that position.”
Shadbolts has a good infrastructure in place to support future growth with a non-legal team of five professional managers. Shadbolt's role is more that of a chairman, with a committee of three overseeing the whole firm. Turnover for the year ending last March was £7.4m with projected figures for next year being between £8m-£9m and of that, 85-90 per cent comes from the UK. One third of the practice is devoted to local business, although there is no private client work.
The movers and shakers include partner Roger Button, who joined in October 2001 from Eversheds' London office, and Michelle Baldock and Caroline Abrey from DMH and Stevens Drake respectively, who both joined in the summer of 2001. Partner Joe Bellhouse left for Wedlake Bell in July and a partner from Bryant Hamilton left after the two firms decided to end their association.
Recent transactions include acting for Microscience on its fund-raising initiative and Emerald Airways on its acquisition of cargo aircraft company Streamline Group. Other clients include Balfour Beatty, Taylor Woodrow and Amey.