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Frontrunners emerge at Linklaters in race for managing partner

Finance & projects head Michael Kent and global banking chief Gideon Moore have emerged as the frontrunners to succeed Simon Davies (pictured) as managing partner of Linklaters with a replacement set to be elected by November.

With Davies leaving the top job a year early to join Lloyds Banking Group as the bank’s most senior lawyer in the New Year, the race to succeed him has seen Moore and Kent garner wide support throughout the Magic Circle firm. A long list will be formed within the next fortnight, which will then be whittled down to a shortlist by the end of August.

A partner at the firm told Legal Business: ‘Gideon and Michael are the frontrunners. Kent is the most open in publically declaring his hand. He’s the person that people know wants the job while others have been a bit more coy. Gideon has kept his cards close to his chest but people are now getting out of the boxes. Gideon has the support of a big practice area and he’s got a lot of the skills to do it. As a leader you have to have respect and people respect him. He’s pretty analytical and pretty sharp. Gideon starts with a bigger home base but Michael is regarded as a calm and steady hand.’

Asia managing partner Marc Harvey and Western Europe managing partner Pieter Riemer are also expected to make the shortlist. Harvey is viewed as having developed the firm’s Asia practice since replacing Stuart Salt in February last year, with Asia the only region to come out of the last financial year with meaningful growth as the firm’s revenue rose by just 1% to £1.27bn.

Harvey, who has also headed the firm’s global litigation group since 2010, has held a number of management positions and has been tipped as an outside bet to win the five-year term. With Harvey open to relocating back to London, after leaving Silk Street nearly two decades ago to boost the firm’s litigation group in Asia, one ex-partner told Legal Business ‘he’s had a lot of success and Linklaters is fixated on Asia so Marc carries a bit of currency’. Harvey, who made partner in 2000, served as head of China for the four years previous to running the firm’s Asia strategy.

Hong Kong-based Harvey and Amsterdam-based Riemer would be viewed as the biggest departure from the ‘iron rod’ management style employed by Davies, with both credited as possessing high amounts of emotional intelligence. Reimer is, however, seen as a longshot for the top job with little support outside of Western Europe. With around half of Linklaters’ 450-strong partnership stationed in Silk Street, one ex-partner comments: ‘Peter is a nice guy but the weight of the firm is at Silk Street so why would you trust a partner in a 20-man office in Amsterdam to run the entire firm?’

The only blemish against Kent, who is receiving wide support from partners outside of the firm’s power hubs of corporate and banking, is a question mark as to whether his management style would be too much of a continuation of what went before. One Linklaters partner comments: ‘He’s a bright guy and a straight shooter. The regulatory group has grown a lot and he’s run and built that group very well. He’s a very calm and measured guy and is a bit more like Simon than the rest of the frontrunners. He’s a little bit colder, with Harvey probably the most charismatic of all of them.’

Nonetheless, with corporate heavyweight Charlie Jacobs the strong favourite to secure the senior partner poster post set to be vacated by Robert Elliott next year, there is a feeling among Silk Street partners that Kent might offer complementary skills to the high-profile partner.

Moore, who has a more international practice than Kent, is deemed to have had a successful four years in charge of the firm’s banking group, which accounts for about 25% of the firm’s global revenue. Having had a strong run on the back of a buoyant restructuring market following the financial crisis, many inside Linklaters feel Moore has outperformed his peers at other Magic Circle firms in guiding the group through a more difficult period recently amid a shift from traditional bank lending to other financing models.

One former partner told Legal Business: ‘The reason Simon Davies won it was that he’d never really offended anyone so he was a neutral choice. Gideon is marmite and he has to face up to the fact that his profile is not equal to his personality. I’m not sure Gideon Moore as managing partner and Charlie Jacobs as senior partner is a ticket anyone wants in the firm as it vests the power in the two most mainstream groups and two high profile partners. Some people will think Michael Kent is the better option for that reason. Michael is a highly respected partner and he’s neither corporate nor banking. He’s a very decent guy and people would respect him. He would bring a lot more presence back to the managing partner role. Michael is a frontrunner, if not the frontrunner. ‘

Elliott, who is overseeing the managing partner election and attending executive committee meetings in light of Davies’ earlier than expected departure, is widely expected to stay on at the firm in a consultant capacity once his term ends on 30 September 2016. David Cheyne, who Elliott succeeded as managing partner in 2011, was similarly asked to stay at the firm and kept on as a consultant.