In 2012, Stuart Fuller will head the firm he has practised at for 21 years. He tells Justin Whealing why he is open to overtures from rival firms
WHEN IT was announced on 31 March that Stuart Fuller would be the new chief executive partner at Mallesons Stephen Jaques in January 2012, it was no great surprise.
Fuller has risen through the ranks of the firm since joining Mallesons fresh out of university in 1990, having variously been the banking and finance practice team leader, and now a managing partner and the co-head of the firm's regional and offshore offices.
While Fuller praises the man he will be replacing, Robert Milliner, who will hand over the reins after seven years in charge, he emphasises that they are "very different people" and that he will bring his own approach to the role.
"I will look to be seen as an honest and direct communicator," he said. "Someone who can talk to anyone and talk about any issue decisively and honestly."
Fuller is also active outside of the office. Describing himself as "someone who doesn't need much sleep", the 44-year-old father of four children started running marathons a couple of years ago and regularly wakes before dawn to train. This year, the Wellington and New York marathons are just as important a part of his agenda as preparing for his role as the firm's new head.
As a managing partner with the firm, Fuller has been a key part of the strategic think tank inside Mallesons for the past five years. He said that when he leads the firm, he will simply be putting recently laid plans into action.
"The firm has a very clear strategy. We spent a lot of time last year clarifying our strategy to 2015, and each of the managing partners played a fundamental part in developing and now implementing that strategy," he said. "It is very much execution
of that plan."
A key plank of Mallesons' strategy in recent years has been to look at the viability of a merger with global firms. Under Milliner's stewardship, Mallesons spoke with Clifford Chance regarding its entry into the Australian market, but the global financial crisis scuttled any proposed merger.
When asked whether a merger is still on the table, Fuller makes the general comment that Mallesons "maintains a range of discussions with a number of firms" - but he does not rule out going down that path in the future.
"It is a clear part of our strategy to create or join a leading international network," said Fuller. "That has been an aspiration of this firm for as long as I have been a partner. I expect there will be some good opportunities around and we will execute against that strategy."
In the meantime, Fuller says that the firm will continue to strengthen the reach of its Asian offices in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai and he will divide his time equally between engaging with internal and external stakeholders.
One key area in which Fuller would like to make an impact is diversity. Mallesons currently has around 22 per cent of female partners, which is roughly comparable to most national law firms. While he doesn't believe in "quotas for quotas sake" to raise this figure, he says that as the father of three daughters he is a "huge supporter of diversity".
"Diversity is a fundamental issue and I would like to establish a team that is representative of the firm on a number of levels," he said. "That includes generational diversity, geographic diversity - which means spreading leadership positions around our various locations - and gender diversity."
Although he is yet to assume the role of chief executive partner, Fuller already has his sights set on the legacy he wants to leave behind when his tenure is finished. He is unequivocal in saying that he will be focused on ensuring the firm is in a stronger position compared with when he took over.
"I want our firm to be focused on clients in the market and its people within the firm equally," he said. "I would like a firm that is part of a broad network or part of a broader international or regional firm."