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Legal Leaders: Grant Fuzi, Allen & Overy's man in Sydney

Legal Leaders: Grant Fuzi, Allen & Overy's man in Sydney

From pulling beers in Bondi to shaking up the Aussie legal sector: Allen & Overy's man down under, Grant Fuzi

From pulling beers in Bondi to shaking up the Aussie legal sector: Allen & Overy's man down under, Grant Fuzi
As managing partner of Allen & Overy Australia, the eyes of the Australian legal community are upon Grant Fuzi. But the attention only makes him more determined to succeed.

Grant Fuzi's legal career began in the pub. As the boy from Bondi pulled beers and polished glasses, dreaming of being the next Gordon Gecko and thinking about where he was going to surf his next break, becoming a lawyer was the last thing on his mind.

Studying economics was his game, surfing was his life, and a law degree was to be nothing more than a flashy addition to his academic credentials.

But when a friend dropped by for a drink and pointed out that Fuzi could earn four dollars an hour more as a summer clerk than he could as a bartender, things changed rapidly.

Inspired by the thought of $14 an hour, Fuzi joined the throng of hopefuls applying for summer positions with the Big Six and, after his very first interview, he found himself entering the world of Clayton Utz.

And there he happily stayed - Wall Street ambitions aside - for more than 20 years.

But in early 2010, Fuzi became the centrepiece of what was undoubtedly the Australian legal world's biggest story of the year: Allen & Overy was coming to Australia and Fuzi was to become its leader.

Almost overnight, and although he didn't quite expect it, Fuzi became the most talked about man in legal circles.

"I would not be being truthful if I didn't say I have been surprised by the heightened and ongoing level of interest," says Fuzi.

"It's fantastic, because it shows that clearly we have hit something exciting and something that the market sees as an exciting development. But did we expect the level of media coverage and interest? No, because at the end of the day, [even though] Allen & Overy is a global elite player, we're still small compared to a number of other players in the market."

Along with the general excitement came a fair amount of controversy, and even though Fuzi doesn't like to think of it as such, the fact that 14 partners were lured from Clayton Utz to start up the business certainly raised a few eyebrows.

But Fuzi is quick to clarify this turn of events. "Why did this number of partners join A&O? I have thought about that a lot, actually," he says.

"It was simply the excitement that a global law firm - for the first time and in a big way - was coming to Australia. We thought it was big, it was exciting. It was not what I call a push factor, but a pull factor. It was an opportunity that was almost impossible to say no to. That's why we joined. It's as simple as that."

"The response to [our arrival] has been so overwhelmingly positive that I would be personally very surprised if our peers internationally were not hearing about it and looking at that [option], but it is for them to decide."

Fuzi has been at the firm's helm since February this year, though he has only had a full team of partners on board for the past three months. But during those three months, says Fuzi, the firm has exceeded all metrics in terms of financials, people and clients - something he did not foresee.

"If someone had said to me when we opened, 'here's your position, here is where you'll be in three months post-full operation', I would've grabbed it with both hands and run and said 'thank you very much!' It has really outperformed our ambitions of where we had hoped to be at this stage," he says.

"It comes down to people and clients, and if you get those things right - and the strategy around that - then everything else falls into place. I genuinely wake up every day feeling blessed and loving coming in to work. I am working with a great group of partners who are all really motivated. We are all pulling in the same direction."

It's obvious that Fuzi approaches his new role with a fierce determination to succeed, especially given the attention and interest generated by the firm's establishment.

"As a group of partners and staff, we feel blessed that we have been bestowed with this amazing career opportunity - a once in a lifetime opportunity. But with that comes challenges and the obligation of delivering, and we are very conscious that the eyes of the community are on us," he says.

"But we are very confident that we are going to deliver. With the reward and excitement comes the commitment and drive to make it work and make it super successful."

Fuzi is unwaveringly confident that Allen & Overy will succeed in what it has set out to do, and cites a steady stream of big deals - in excess of $10 billion worth in three months, with more to come - and a constant barrage of job applications as being testament to the fact the firm's strategy is already working.

"It has been overwhelming. In the first week we had over 1500 job applications. It has been interest at both partner and all other staff levels. I think it is fair to say we have been inundated with approaches," he says.

"We really want to make this the most attractive place for all people to come and work ... [but] we are being very careful about our build up, so we are being very selective as to who we think will fit the legal and cultural brand that we are trying to create."

And that strategy and culture is something which Fuzi is determined to protect, though he admits it will not be easy.

"I really believe that we have a fantastic offering here and I think that strategically and culturally we've got it right," he says.

"I think the biggest challenge is not to get diverted from that and make sure that we stay focused, both on why we're here - which is to provide the market with a great alternative and differentiator - and secondly, to stay true to our culture and not let anything we do in the future erode that."

Fuzi recognises that he is in the privileged - but at times difficult - position of being the first managing partner of the first Magic Circle firm to establish itself in Australia, though he quietly suggests he will not be the last.

"I can't comment on what other global firms are thinking. All I can say is that Allen & Overy thought very long and hard about coming into the Australian market. As the world becomes globalised the legal market has to follow that," he says.

"The response to [our arrival] has been so overwhelmingly positive that I would be personally very surprised if our peers internationally were not hearing about it and looking at that [option], but it is for them to decide."

And, quite frankly, it is not an issue which is occupying a lot of Fuzi's time. He does, after all, have a firm to run and plenty of waves to catch.

"My life revolves around the beach and has always done so," he says.

"You dive in the water, and go for a swim or surf, and everything else just washes away."

- Claire Chaffey

>> Read more about the Legal Leaders shaping the Australian legal industry

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Legal Leaders: Grant Fuzi, Allen & Overy's man in Sydney
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