The Challenge

One of the largest global banking groups, an existing board level client of many years, discussed with us that it would need to start succession for its General Counsel in the relatively near future. At the same time, we were undertaking a search to find a Washington literate independent director to join their board.

Our Approach

What we had learnt from advising other global banks, was that it was no longer enough to approach strategic questions in entirely the same way as they had previously.

A few years before, on a top level legal search, we had met a candidate from the US Treasury with an outstanding legal mind and training, plus presence and authority. On that occasion, we concluded his background was too orientated toward the global financial system; and in the event he was also unusually asked to remain in situ, post the change in Presidential administration. This individual was now actively seeking a new executive assignment and we arranged for him to meet the Chairman of our client, partially to help give context to the non-executive candidates, but also as prospective General Counsel.

Through the bank board and being an independent director of another international group with significant US exposure, the Chairman had a sophisticated sense of what the US business environment can demand in extreme circumstances. When he met the individual in question, they clicked – the Chairman recognised that because he was from a different world to the bankers, he was complementary to them and could translate for them a Washington language that they did not fully understand.

The Chairman agreed that our candidate should meet the CEO, as the General Counsel was a part of his executive team; the CEO immediately saw the potential value that this individual could bring to the board’s government and regulatory questions. However, the CEO rightly needed reassurance that the business’ legal risks would also be managed, and needed to make the comparison with what he would get from individuals that had spent some, or all of their career, as a bank General Counsel.

We researched the market and agreed four candidates for the CEO to meet: two existing Group General Counsels of European headquartered global banks, an American in a very senior role with a global European-headquartered bank with diverse experience across the Americas and Asia; and an existing US bank Group General Counsel with a background in the White House.

Our initial candidate had benchmarked well against them; however, his political connections could prove a double-edged sword, and the role would have to be reconstructed to accommodate his credentials (namely, that he had no prior in house banking or corporate experience). In order to satisfy the bank that there would not be any adverse political reaction, we engaged a political risk consultancy. Their probing of their high level contacts gave us confidence that there would be no negative consequences from the appointment.

For the second aspect, we drafted a brief which focused the role on advice to the CEO and board, which gained approval from the Chairman and CEO. While the role retained oversight for the legal function, an existing member of the legal team was elevated to holding responsibility for day to day management of legal for all the businesses and operations.

The Outcome

The initial candidate was appointed with the authority of a mandate won in an open contest with the global marketplace. After successfully navigating a steep learning curve in the first year, the new General Counsel has flourished as an integral and invaluable member of the top team.