Withers hires partners from Pillsbury and BCLP to boost Southeast Asia reach

Private client powerhouse also signs real estate partner in London and promotes four lawyers to partner

Paul Jebely and Tien Gui Koh

Top 30 UK firm Withers has made two senior partner-level hires in Southeast Asia to boost its global asset finance and hotels and hospitality teams in Hong Kong and Singapore. 

Paul Jebely and Tien Gui Koh join the firm from Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman and Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (BCLP) respectively. Jebely, who will be based in Hong Kong, will head up the firm’s newly-launched global asset finance practice, while Koh, who will be based in Singapore, joins up with Withers’ hotels and hospitality team. 

Aviation specialist Jebely arrives at Withers after roughly six years at Pillsbury, where he served as managing partner of the US firm’s Hong Kong office and co-chair of its private wealth and asset finance practices. Before that, he served as head of aviation finance at Clyde & Co, having joined in 2011 from Ashurst where he led the firm’s aviation practice. 

Jebely, who is triple-qualified in England and Wales, the US and Canada, brings with him 15 years of experience advising ultra-high net worth individuals and their business enterprises and has served as counsel on more than $20bn in transactions since the start of his career. 

Jeremy Wakeham, CEO of Withers’ business division, said: There's no doubt that Paul, and the team of current and new Withers lawyers and staff that we will bring together around him, will be the market leaders in the private asset finance space, namely involving aircraft and yachts, and will significantly enhance the profile of our existing work involving such assets.” 

Wakeham added that Jebely’s “world-class aviation capability” would also benefit the firm as it continues to expand its aviation clientele to include airlines and other operators. 

Koh, meanwhile, moves to Withers — which operates as Withers KhattarWong in Singapore — after just under four years at BCLP having previously spent eight years as a hospitality partner at regional giant Rajah & Tann between 2013 and 2018. Before that, Koh worked in-house as general counsel for the Jumeirah and Marriott hotel groups, where he led the group’s legal teams for the Asia Pacific region. 

Koh, who also serves as an independent director of UK hotel chain Travelodge in Asia, represents hotel operators, developers and owners of hotel developments and serviced apartments in a range of matters including franchise and leasing agreements, joint ventures and real-property acquisitions.

“Tien Gui is truly a hotel and hospitality industry insider,” Wakeham said. “He offers a unique perspective on the sector as he has experience as a legal advisor and as a hospitality entrepreneur, investor, operator and in-house lawyer with major hotel groups. We're delighted to have him join us, particularly at this time when the hotels and hospitality market in Asia is poised for a strong recovery post-pandemic.” 

Elsewhere, the firm added Pervaze Ahmed to its residential property team in London. Ahmed, who specialises in advising on the sale and purchase of high-value properties in the London market, joins Withers after five years at Howard Kennedy, where he was head of residential real estate. 

The firm’s busy start to the year also saw four partner promotions, first announced in the back half of 2021, go into effect last week across Withers’ Boston, Milan, San Francisco and British Virgin Island bases. 

Venture capital specialist Andrew Gay got the nod in Boston, with estate planning lawyer Amy Hespenheide also joining the firm’s US partner network in San Francisco. Sara-Jane Knock, who advises on commercial litigation, fraud and asset tracing and insolvency cases moved up the ranks in the British Virgin Islands, while tax and trust lawyer Roberto Bonomi rounded out the promotions round in Milan. 

Withers has been enjoying an extended period of growth: last year it grew revenue by 11% to £243.7m against a 32% increase in profit-per-equity-partner (PEP) to £660k. Those results followed from equally impressive figures for 2020, when revenue grew by 13% and PEP by 40% PEP.

Jebely, meanwhile, was the only partner based at Pillsbury's Hong Kong office and the firm currently lists one associate as being resident there. However, in December it issued a statement to Law.com in which it said it intended to maintain the office 'to support our growing China practice'. The firm, which did not respond to a request for comment, has offices in Beijing and Shanghai.

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