What you don’t know about KWM’s new MP
Sue Kench, who has replaced Tony O’Malley at the helm of King & Wood Mallesons, is a twin, has been nicknamed “Kenchy” by global firm head Stuart Fuller and owns a golden retriever named Coco.
In an interview with Lawyers Weekly, Kench (pictured) shared personal stories as she detailed her vision for the Sino-Australian firm, which recently endured a management shake-up, the loss of a practice head and admitted it had made redundancies.
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When asked about her private life, Kench revealed that she is a mirror-image twin. Her sister, Kate McCann, who has worked extensively in management consultancy and sits on various boards, exhibits characteristics with reversed asymmetry, such as opposite dominant handedness.
Kench is also married, has three children – two boys and a girl – and named her dog after fashion legend Coco Chanel.
She described her family as “close” and her husband John as “very supportive”. In fact, Kench said her husband is the reason she is able to juggle a demanding job and family commitments.
The couple met on Kench’s first day at KWM in 1993, but John isn’t a lawyer; he works in menswear. Three years after joining the firm she was made partner.
It was around this time, in the late 1990s, that Kench and the current global chief of KWM, Stuart Fuller, started working closely together.
Fuller, who was also present at the interview, chuckled about his experience working on a particularly difficult deal with Kench, who he affectionately referred to as “Kenchy”.
Fuller said Kench was and remains decisive, a good listener and a possessor of excellent judgement. He added that Kench’s speedy instalment as managing partner last week (24 May), just days after O’Malley’s resignation, was down to her suitability for the role: “The choice was easy.”
But Kench said her leadership won’t be drastically different to O’Malley’s: “It’s a bit of fine tuning”. She singled out seeking opportunities in Asia and building on the firm’s engagement with existing clients as the focus of her leadership.
For Kench, clients “are at the forefront of everything I do”. She said she wants to instil a similarly strong client focus throughout the firm and will practise what she preaches by maintaining a connection with her clients in KWM’s real estate, construction and environment practice, of which she has been managing partner since 2012. She clarified, however, that her involvement in the practice group will be “hands off”.
“You can’t just cut and run,” she said. “I love clients, I love transactions, I love being involved in the practice ... so I’ll test [that arrangement] for a little bit.”
Although Kench identifies herself as a practising lawyer, she has also been actively involved in the firm’s management in recent years. She was the co‐chair of the Partner Admissions Committee from 2005 to 2012 and was involved in the firm’s global tie-up with King & Wood as a member of the board from 2010 to 2012.
Kench revealed that she had not considered standing for the Board until a colleague suggested it. She said she plans to provide women in the firm with the same encouragement she was shown.
“It’s about ... providing women with support to let them rise and, in some cases, intervene and pick them out,” she said.
“That’s not to say the path is easy,” she added. If it was, Kench would not be only one of two female managing partners of a top 30 Australian law firm by revenue. Henry Davis York’s Sharon Cook is the other.
“Sharon’s been the sole female in a gang of guys for a long while,” said Kench, revealing she worked with Cook when she was a part-time senior associate at the firm in the early 1990s.
Despite the gender imbalance at the top end of law firms, Kench said she is not an advocate of setting quotas. Last year, KWM insisted it could achieve a 30 per cent female partner ratio by 2015 without enforcing a quota system.
Fuller chimed in, claiming he is confident the firm will achieve its aspirational target now that Kench is at the helm.
“The authenticity of having a female leader of the firm talking about this is far stronger than a male, in terms of getting the resonance,” he said. “We don’t actually need any more policies, we put all that in place a long time ago; it’s now just about living it properly.”