Gavin Bell has told Lawyers Weekly that a heart attack earlier this year was the catalyst for his decision to leave Herbert Smith Freehills.
Bell (pictured) was speaking to Lawyers Weekly today (25 September) in the wake of yesterday’s announcement that he and the firm’s other joint CEO, David Willis, will step down on 30 April 2014 when their current term expires.
Bell said he had the option of extending his term but a desire to spend more time with his family was the main reason for his decision to leave.
“I had a serious health issues earlier in the year, and while I got over that, it brings a bit of perspective to decisions like this,” he said, adding that the “timing is right” to step down now.
In February, Bell suffered a suffered a heart attack while on holiday with his family and was off work for several weeks.
Bell has five children aged between eight and 21. Speaking to Lawyers Weekly from Singapore, he said he wanted to pursue a less hectic lifestyle so he could spend more time with them.
“My wife was very happy,” said Bell when talking about his wife Belinda’s reaction to his decision. “She had never pushed one way or the other, but she was glad I made that choice.”
Bell first took up the role of Freehills’ managing partner in 2005.
Under his stewardship, the firm established itself as one of Australia’s leading law firms.
However, since the merger with Herbert Smith in October 2012, the firm has lost several well-regarded partners and it also instituted a pay freeze in Australia earlier this year.
Bell scotched any notion that these were contributing factors in his decision to quit.
“None of those issues were a factor,” he said. “My sole motivation [for stepping down]is family.
“My heart attack earlier in the year brought a sense of relief to it.
“I could have signed up for another term, but it would have been another three to four years and that is a long time when you have young kids and they are growing up.”
Bell, who first joined what was then Freehill Hollingdale & Page in Sydney in 1982, fresh from university, said that once he leaves HSF he has no plans to join another law firm down the track.
Bell did flag an intention to seek a role as a director on a number of corporate boards once he leaves the firm.
HSF has indicated that it was still to be decided whether Bell and Willis would be replaced by a single CEO or if the position would continue to be a dual one.
HSF expects the new appointment process will be completed by the end of the year.
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