01 Dec 2021

Baker McKenzie turns to Paris-based global projects head as it rebuilds Africa leadership team

Global firm appoints new Africa chief following controversy over leadership of Johannesburg arm

Michael Foundethakis

Baker McKenzie has appointed a new Africa head as it refreshes it leadership for the continent following controversy over the management of its Johannesburg office.

Paris-based partner Michael Foundethakis has been unveiled as chair of the firm’s Africa Steering Committee, replacing banking, finance and restructuring specialist Wildu du Plessis, who left the firm in September, along with Johannesburg managing partner Morné Van der Merwe and director of Africa operations Bruce Shubach, to set up a boutique law firm.

The trio’s departure came shortly after the firm said it was implementing a ‘three-step plan’ to address management issues in Johannesburg that included a change in leadership and measures to make it easier for staff to raise confidential concerns about their treatment.

Foundethakis has been with the global firm for more than two decades and currently leads its banking and finance practice in Paris and heads up the firm’s global projects, trade and export finance group. As a seasoned project, trade and export finance specialist, he focuses his practice on emerging markets with more than 25 years of experience handling matters in Sub-Saharan Africa.

As chair of the Africa committee, Foundethakis will be in charge of shaping and implementing the Bakers’ Africa strategy. The firm has been operating in Africa for more than 30 years and currently has three regional bases in Egypt, Morocco and Johannesburg. 

Bakers EMEA chair Esteban Raventos said the appointment reflects the firm’s “strategic vision of being the global law firm of choice for our clients and our people in Africa”. 

“There are so many opportunities across the African continent over the next decade, and we are excited to be there with our clients and to contribute in the realisation of that potential for tremendous growth,” he added. 

Foundethakis added: “There are considerable opportunities across the continent, but not without responsibility. As well as being bankable and yielding attractive returns, it is becoming increasingly imperative that investment should be sustainable and also provide ancillary benefits to local economies. Simply put, it should be net positive for the region."

Bakers is yet to appoint Van der Merwe’s replacement as head of the Johannesburg office, which is being led by a transitional team made up of corporate partner Janet MacKenzie, competition partner Lerisha Naidu and tax partner Virusha Subban, with support from Amsterdam partners Erik Scheer and Mirjam de Blecourt.

Meanwhile, Du Plessis, who was Johannesburg office managing partner before handing over to Van der Merwe in 2016, has teamed up with  Van der Merwe and Schubach to form corporate law firm, Alchemy Law Africa, alongside fellow Bakers leaver and former local partner Fani Dingiswayo.

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