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Rigotti set to take sole leadership of HSF as firm phases out dual-CEO model

Herbert Smith Freehills‘ (HSF’s) co-chief executive Mark Rigotti is set to take the helm as sole leader of the Anglo-Australian law firm, Legal Business has learned, with HSF phasing out its dual-CEO model.

According to two separate accounts, HSF’s global partnership council last week informed co-CEO Sonya Leydecker of its intention to put forward Rigotti (pictured), a legacy Freehills partner, as the sole CEO in an uncontested ratification vote to be held before the end of 2016. The oversight body is chaired by senior partner James Palmer and meets on a quarterly basis. The body has responsibility over firm strategy, partner retirements and remuneration.

A HSF spokesperson said: ‘We will be moving to a sole CEO from 1 May 2017. This underlines the strength of the firm following our merger and the move from the integration phase to the confirmed implementation of our strategy. The process for approving the sole CEO is now underway.’

There had been some indications previously that Leydecker would seek to take on the sole CEO role after her current term ended. Leydecker became HSF’s joint leader alongside Rigotti in 2014. 

The decision has been described by several former partners as ‘a surprise’ to Leydecker, a veteran litigator in arguably the City’s top disputes team.

Sensitivities over the integration of legacy firms Herbert Smith and Australian leader Freehills have also been a major feature of the firm’s culture since the union was agreed in 2012. The merger has remained controversial with some partners, who believe Herbert Smith should either have pursued a US tie-up or remained independent.

Leydecker also divided opinion, and is felt by some to have failed to build a rock-solid core of support in HSF’s influential disputes team.

Leydecker had joined Herbert Smith in 1984 before promotion to partner in 1991. Before taking the role of co-chief executive, she led the global disputes practice for eight years and oversaw office launches in New York, Germany and its Belfast hub.

Major initiatives overseen by Leydecker include the firm’s ‘Beyond 2020’ strategy and launching further legal services hubs in Perth, Shanghai and Melbourne. Such initiatives are widely considered a success among peers.

Leydecker steps down from management as the firm put in its strongest financial performance since its creation in 2012. Revenue increased by 7% in 2015/16 to £870m from £815m in 2014/15 although the figures still lag behind HSF’s record profit per equity partner (PEP) of £1.03m, achieved ahead of the financial crisis. PEP rose 5% last year to reach £838,000.

Read more on the firm in: ‘Consumed – Can burning ambition from Down Under recast Herbert Smith for the global stage?’