Baker McKenzie turns to rising star to revamp Johannesburg leadership

Appointment follows last summer’s controversy over ‘management issues’ at office

Baker McKenzie has unveiled a new Johannesburg leadership team more than nine months after implementing a ‘three-step plan’ to address management issues at the office.

South Africa head of competition and antitrust Lerisha Naidu will become managing partner of the office from 1 July at the head of a management team that also includes head of employment and compensation Johan Botes and corporate partner Marc Yudaken.

The firm pointed out that Naidu was one of the youngest partners made up at Bakers when she joined the partnership at the age of 32 in 2014 and remains the youngest member of the local management team.

She was also a participant in the firm’s Leaders Investing For Tomorrow (LIFT) programme for high performing women partners.

Her management experience includes being a local member of a transitional leadership team set up by Bakers in the wake of the controversy that blew up last August when it emerged that office managing partner Morné van der Merwe had stepped down and that his duties were being handled by partners from the firm’s Amsterdam office.

The new management team, who officially take up their posts from 1 July, will continue to be supported by Amsterdam-based partners Erik Scheer and Mirjam de Blécourt for the next 12 months.

A change in leadership was one of three pledges made by the firm during an office town hall last August, the others being ‘listening to and reviewing people’s concerns’, and ‘a commitment to the future and commercial success’ of the office.

Naidu said the firm had devised a new client value model that was “precise and targeted, with an emphasis on cross-practice, cross-border collaboration, and solutions that prioritise sustainability and innovation”.

She added: “In terms of our people, we are committed to being the best employer in the local market, by focusing on recruitment, retention, reward and recognition, inclusion, diversity and belonging, personal growth, learning, and fun."

She and her management team will report to London-based Alex Chadwick, EMEA+ managing partner, and work with the firm’s Africa Steering Committee, which is led by Paris head of banking and finance Michael Foundethakis.

Foundethakis' appointment to lead the steering group last September was another important staging post in the global giant’s drive to shake up its Africa leadership.

He took over from Wildu du Plessis, who left the firm, along with Van der Merwe and director of Africa operations Bruce Shubach, to set up a boutique law firm.

Bakers launched in South Africa in 2012, when 16 lawyers and 15 professional staff joined from Dewey & LeBoeuf after its collapse. 

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