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‘Ultra-focused on culture and hungry to build’ – McDermott’s new London head sets out stall

Earlier this month McDermott Will & Emery announced that leveraged finance partner Aymen Mahmoud will take the reins from Hamid Yunis as managing partner of the US firm’s London office.

Mahmoud (pictured), who has been at the firm since 2020 after joining from Willkie Farr & Gallagher, will take the helm on 1 June, while also continuing as co-head of the firm’s London transactions group and the finance, restructuring, and special situations group.

Yunis, who served as London managing partner since 2019, has steered the firm through five years of growth, during which lawyer headcount has risen by around 30%. He will now transition back to a full-time fee-earning role.

In a conversation with Legal Business, Mahmoud explained that the firm reviews its leadership regularly, typically reassessing every three years. ‘I was asked to step into the role as part of the usual leadership change to drive the next period of growth, and am honoured to be trusted with it,’ he said.

The leadership refresh has also seen private equity veteran Graham White take on the mantle of London senior partner, having joined the firm in March after a seven-year hiatus. He was most recently London managing partner at Fried Frank, and has a history of building City practices, notably at both Kirkland & Ellis and Linklaters.

Mahmoud said that talks with White began around a year ago. ‘I brought Graham into the firm because he has a really complementary skill set with our existing bench; with what we want to have going forward,’ he said. ‘He is a really fantastic person – giving us a nice cultural fit’.

The pair are behind much of the recent recruitment at the firm, including the hire of Fatema Orjela, who joined the transactions practice from Sidley last month, and also featured as a deal star in LB’s ‘Alphas Revisited’ feature last year.

Mahmoud said: ‘It’s a lot less risky to hire people that you know and who have a successful track record. But we are not limiting ourselves. We want to bring in and develop the best talent in the market who are hungry to continue to build with us just as we are extremely hungry to build, and we have huge capacity to do so.’

‘We are ultra-focused on culture, as an office and as a firm, and every person we bring in needs to fit into that culture,’ he continued.

As of May 2024, the firm’s London office houses 103 fee-earners, including 30 partners, and has welcomed 15 new partners since 2021. The latest addition to the roster is Adrian Cohen, who has joined as a senior consultant from Proskauer Rose where he was a partner, following a thirty-year stint at Clifford Chance. Last week the firm also announced that Chris Kandel – who was featured in LB’s Banking and Finance perspectives last year – is joining from Morrison Foerster alongside finance colleague John Burge.

There have been losses though, with Tom Whelan, the former head of the private equity and corporate transactions group, departing to join Reed Smith in February.

Globally, McDermott has seen five-year growth of 96%, with only Kirkland & Ellis surpassing it at 106%. Only four other firms in the 2023 Global 100 have achieved growth of more than 75% – King & Spalding (77%), Willkie Farr & Gallagher (79%), Holland & Knight (82%) and Cooley (87%).

Mahmoud – who describes his leadership style as ‘authentic, energetic, and strategic’ – said that the firm is committed to ongoing expansion in London, with further hires anticipated in the coming months, but stressed that these will be strategic. ‘If we double or triple the size of the London office, that’s great, but what we will not do is grow for the sake of growth,’ he said.

‘There is a strategic focus on where we want to grow in line with our power alleys, in line with our existing client relationships, and in line with clients we want to target that we think have great adjacencies with our existing business.’

When asked about his vision for the firm in the next few years, Mahmoud said the firm does pay undue attention to revenue, profitability and headcount projections. ‘We care more about sustainable and strategic growth – we want to increase all those metrics, but without putting an external target on it as such. We’ve been beating internal targets year on year for some time.’

Recent mandates for the the firm have included advising data analytics platform Kpler on annual recurring revenue (ARR) financing from global PE houses Bain Capital Credit and Apax Credit, led by Mahmoud in London alongside teams in the US and France. The firm’s London arbitration team also recently advised UAE-based oil and gas company Crescent Petroleum and Crescent Gas Corporation in enforcing a $2.4bn arbitration award against the National Iranian Oil Company.

On juggling his new position with his client work, Mahmoud said: ‘Our firm’s priority is always our clients and that will be where my focus is, but management of the firm in London exists alongside that, just as for each of our other office managing partners.’