Malleson Stephen Jaques is already eyeing a shortlist of candidates to take the helm on Tony D’aloisio’s departure. Francis Wilkins spoke to Malleson’s chairman Robyn Chalmers
With Mallesons Stephen Jaques’ chief executive partner Tony D’Aloisio set to move to the Australian Stock Exchange, many at the top of the legal profession will now eagerly be awaiting the announcement of his successor. D’Aloisio, whom the ASX named on 23 April 2004 as its new managing director and CEO, will be quite a hard act to follow. That said, he is usually very modest when it comes to his leadership, stressing that Mallesons’ success is down to a team effort from practitioners at every level.
D’Aloisio’s departure is not unexpected, said chairman Robyn Chalmers, and Mallesons was told at the end of 2003 that a successor would hopefully be announced by the end of this year. His appointment to the ASX positions — to take effect in October — has, however, brought that date forward a little. Interviews for Mallesons’ new chief executive partner begin in June and the firm hopes to name the successful candidate in July or August.
The succession committee comprises board members and partners, with a mixture of gender, age and practice area. The committee members are Diana Nicholson, partner in charge at the Melbourne office; Melbourne partner Steve Minns, who specialises in public company acquisitions and equity; Bryan Pointon, head of Mallesons’ private equity practice; securitisation and structured finance partner, Stuart Fuller; partner Peter Doyle, a leading project finance lawyer; and Chalmers.
The committee has already considered what’s out there in the market, Chalmers said, and while Mallesons has also engaged the services of an external consultant, they will not be taking on a headhunting role.
Mallesons knows the market well enough to identify the sort of people the firm wants, she said, and the committee has already drawn up a shortlist of about six people — including at least one from overseas.
Despite law firms’ increasing willingness to consider business leaders from outside the legal pro- fession for managing partner positions, Chalmers said she would be surprised if Mallesons were to appoint “anyone other than a legally qualified person”. “I would expect it to be a lawyer — absolutely,” she said.
Because it was known for some time that D’Aloisio would not be appointed for a further term, the news of his departure has had a limited impact — both within the firm and within the wider business world. “For our clients, it’s no more than a point of interest,” according to Chalmers, who said the clients were primarily concerned with the quality of the legal advice and the service that they receive. A change of leadership in the upper echelons of the firm was therefore far enough removed from their day to day contact with Mallesons as to be of little relevance. “But that reflects well on the firm,” she added. “He has been an excellent chief executive and we’ve been fortunate enough to have him for such a long time.”
“Within the firm, the knowledge that it was his last term meant that there has not been an impact on the firm. It focuses the attention, but that’s really all.”
Named Australian Law Firm of the Year in 2001 and 2002 and regarded by many as the top of the top tier, Mallesons won’t necessarily expect its new chief executive to make radical changes to the firm’s strategies. (And that despite D’Aloisio’s concern that the firm not rest on its laurels). “If we are to stay ahead and maintain direction, then the chief executive needs to be able to look ahead to five years, to 10 years time,” said Chalmers. “There’s no point in just being able to strategise and work through ideas — you also need to be able to implement them and to deliver.”
“The chief executive needs to be able to get buy-in and to lead,” she continued. “It is not like a corporation where the CEO can consider a range of options and say, ‘I’ve listened to your opinions, but I’m still going to do this’. With a partnership it is a different situation.” In order to have the support of the partners, a chief executive needs first to have won their respect, while at the same time, he needs to be a leader of resilience.
“The new chief executive will look at our strategy — that’s something they have to do — but in the short term, we don’t envisage a change of strategy,” said Chalmers, adding that the firm would work to maintain pre-eminence in its core markets. “In addition, two key components of the current strategy include looking at the firm’s global relevance and its expansion in Asia,” she said. “These are the two main issues for the firm, going forward.”