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KWM’s European head Kon to step down early after turbulent period for global giant

After a bruising 18 months for King & Wood Mallesons‘ European and Middle East business, regional senior partner Stephen Kon has informed the partnership he will step down as senior partner halfway into his three-year term.

Kon, a competition veteran who joined the legacy SJ Berwin in 1982, will relinquish his leadership by the end of October to return to fee earning. Kon’s decision kickstarts a senior partner race that will begin on 12 September, when partners can put themselves forward for the role. A replacement will be announced between 19 and 27 October to take over immediately.

The decision comes as KWM this month kicks off its much-delayed election for the managing partner post, which has been vacant since the spring. Nominations open for both roles on 12 September with the managing partner set to be finalised in early October.

Kon commented: ‘It has been a great privilege to serve as EUME senior partner since 2012 but, with the election of a new managing partner now imminent, the time has come to pass the baton of leadership to a new generation. I strongly believe it is in the best interests of the firm to put in place a new leadership team at this time, to drive the business forward and to draw the full benefits of the recent changes we have made to strengthen the firm in EUME. I remain fully committed to the firm.’

Kon was elected senior partner of SJ Berwin in May 2012, before leading the City law firm through its merger with Hong Kong-headquartered KWM in November 2013 in what became the first major West-East legal merger. He was re-elected as senior partner in October 2014 to serve a second three-year term beginning May 2015.

Kon, however, has largely managed the Europe and Middle East business since the start of this year after William Boss unexpectedly stood down as regional managing partner at the start of the year – just nine months into the job. The firm, which elected Boss for a three-year term at the same time as Kon’s re-election last spring, has since been without a managing partner in the region.

Kon has overseen a raft of shake-ups to the business in 2016 in a bid to revive its fortunes following a string of high profile partner exits and a period of financial underperformance. This year he has overseen a practice re-organisation moving from 17 to three divisions, with more powerful practice heads, to better support management.

In what has been a punishing 2016 for the business, Kon has also led the firm through a major partnership restructuring, which saw some 24 partners asked to leave in March, and a cash call that will see partners pump £14m into the troubled practice. The firm has also extended its loan facility with Barclays this year, up from £20m to £25m, and experienced delays in paying partners.

KWM global managing partner Stuart Fuller commented: ‘Stephen has been an exceptional senior partner, a leader who has guided the firm through a period of transformational change. He has brought insight, energy and good sense to the role and we are indebted to him for his contribution as senior partner. Stephen’s decision to step down as senior partner to allow for a new leadership team is entirely consistent with his selfless approach and commitment to what is best for the firm.’

Leadership timetable

12 September: Managing partner and senior partner election process opens

20 September: Nominations for managing partner close

4 October: Earliest date for announcement of the result of the managing partner election

4 October: Nominations for senior partner close

11 October: Latest date for announcement of the result of the managing partner election

19 October: Earliest date for announcement of the result of the senior partner election

26 October: Latest date for announcement of the result of the senior partner vote

The appointment of both the managing partner and senior partner will be with immediate effect with a term of three years for each role.

Click here to read ‘Branded’ our in-depth analysis of the state of King & Wood Mallesons (£)