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Legacy Lovells misses out again as board recommends yet another legacy Hogan & Hartson CEO

The Hogan Lovells board has once again chosen a legacy Hogan & Hartson partner to be its next chief executive. Miguel Zaldivar is currently the regional chief executive for Asia Pacific-Middle East, based in Hong Kong, and will replace the current CEO, Steve Immelt, on a four-year term from 1 July 2020.

Although Zaldivar’s recommendation is subject to a constitutional formality vote, according to one former partner, no-one is anticipating that the partnership will vote the board’s decision down.

Based in Florida between 2002 and 2018, Zaldivar developed the Latin American practice and has experience in internal project development and finance through his role as co-leader of the firm’s infrastructure, energy, resources and projects practice.

With the CEO wielding the most executive power at the firm, Zaldivar will be the third legacy Hogan & Hartson partner to occupy the top role since the merger of the UK and US firms in 2010, and the second to be appointed sole CEO. Immelt took up the role of the firm’s first sole chief executive from joint heads Warren Gorrell and legacy Lovells’ David Harris in 2014, with legacy Lovells partner David Hudd as his deputy (pictured together, above). Both Immelt and Hudd’s terms were extended to the end of June next year by the board in 2017 and the firm has not yet made an announcement on who will replace Hudd as deputy CEO, saying the role ‘is subject to separate consideration’.

While the chair of the board, currently held by Leopold von Gerlach, has been occupied by legacy Lovells partners since 2012, Zaldivar’s elevation reflects the fact that the US business dominates key appointments, including head of corporate David Gibbons and head of the global regulatory practice group, Alice Valder Curran. Appointing another CEO from the US side will do little to dispel the idea that the UK side of the business is playing second fiddle. Although Zaldivar has wide support in the US and Asia, according to one ex-partner, he is not as well known in Europe.

The firm’s London presence certainly requires some focus following a number of senior departures. Last month, the firm lost global private equity head Tom Whelan to McDermott Will & Emery and disputes partner Julianne Hughes-Jennett moved to Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan after 20 years at the firm.

According to the firm, Zaldivar will focus on client service, investment in key markets and managing the firm’s profitability. While the firm has largely been viewed as being run competently and in an understated manner under Immelt, performance has been solid rather than spectacular. Zaldivar may well be charged with injecting more impetus and ambition into the Hogan Lovells project, including establishing greater strength in corporate on both sides of the Atlantic.

The firm’s current business model has been described as being ‘all things to all people in all places’ and the key question is whether Hogan Lovells will continue with this steady model or focus on becoming more profitable in critical jurisdictions.

For more on Hogan Lovells, read ‘A meeting of minds – Hogan Lovells’