04 May 2020

Herbert Smith Freehills unveils streamlined leadership structure as it refreshes executive team

Incoming CEO Justin D'Agostino divides firm into two regions and appoints trio of partners to revamped executive board

Justin D'Agostino, HSF's new CEO

Herbert Smith Freehills’ (HSF's) new chief executive, Justin D’Agostino, has created a streamlined six-person executive board and divided the firm into two regions in a bid to create a nimbler leadership structure.

The move sees three partners emerge as key deputies to D’Agostino in newly created roles, sitting with him, COO Nicole Bamforth and CFO Steve Bowers on an executive board that has been reduced from ten to six.

They are Alison Brown, who becomes executive partner, west, with responsibility for the US and EMEA, Andrew Pike, who becomes executive partner, east, with responsibility for Asia and Australia, and Ian Cox, who takes up the role of executive partner for practice groups, into whom the firm’s six practice area teams will now report, meaning they no longer have a place on the board.

The shake-up comes hard on the heels of a similar simplification of Hogan Lovells’ structure by incoming CEO Miguel Zaldivar in which he is also seeking to speed up decision making.

All three of HSF’s new board-level executive partners held senior roles under the old structure. Brown will continue to head up the employment, incentives and pensions group as well as now having direct responsibility for the UK and US as part of her new remit, Pike was Australia executive partner and will continue in that role while Cox was previously regional managing partner for the UK, US and EMEA.

The streamlining gives HSF's flagship London office two partner representatives on the board in Brown and Cox, an important gesture given Hong Kong-based D’Agostino's decision not to emulate his predecessor Mark Rigotti by transferring to London. Senior partner James Palmer is also based in London.

There is also room for two regional managing partner appointments. Moscow-based corporate partner Alexei Roudiak becomes managing partner of EMEA, reporting in to Brown, while disputes lawyer and former managing partner for Greater China, Hong Kong-based May Tai, fills a gap left by D’Agostino by taking over from him as Asia managing partner, reporting in to Pike.

“Our aim is to build an ambitious yet straightforward firm, sharply focussed on our strategy, clients, markets and people – and on strong financial performance and resilience," said D’Agostino. “By devolving day-to-day decisions closer to the business, we’ll allow our people to work in the way that makes most sense for their clients and region.

“The new executive has been working together on our pandemic response since late February, and our experience has confirmed the need for a nimble leadership structure – one that guides globally yet allows leaders to act locally.”

The key global head of disputes role, which D’Agostino also held before taking over from Mark Rigotti as chief executive on 1 May, will be split between Anna Sutherland, head of the Australian disputes practice, and London banking litigator Damien Byrne Hill. Byrne Hill will also continue to lead HSF’s key UK and US disputes practice.

Sutherland’s and Byrne Hill’s ascents have been rapid; she was appointed country head of disputes in October 2019, while Byrne Hill became head of UK/US disputes in 2018.

The heads of the remaining five practice groups remain in post: Brown; joint heads of corporate, Carolyn Pugsley and Stephen Wilkinson; competition head Stephen Wisking; Libby Jackson, leader of the HSF’s alternative legal services arm; and Jason Ricketts, who heads finance, property and projects, with Ricketts gaining the additional responsibility of overseeing the Latin America practice.

Last month the firm announced its largest partner promotions round in eight years, with 21 partners appointed across its network.

The new board replaces the previous ten-person executive, which consisted of practice area heads and regional managing partners, as well as Bamforth, Bowers and outgoing CEO Mark Rigotti.

In July last year, the firm reported a 4% increase in revenue to £966m against an 11% increase in profits per equity partner to £949,000.