What originally drew you to a career in advisory services and investment banking? Were there any other career paths that you thought about?
I have always been drawn to the more distressed end of the market, and driven by a curiosity as to the many myriad reasons why businesses get into difficulty and how they may be turned around. I’ve also always enjoyed the process of negotiating transactions, and the restructuring world often provides a complex web of stakeholders among whom a way forward has to ultimately be implemented (ideally consensually).
And yes, my dream job has always been to be an airline pilot – a role that I’d still do tomorrow for free if I could! Unfortunately, I’m colorblind, so I’ve known for a long time that I’d have to pursue a different path. Luckily, I found one that I thoroughly enjoy!
You started your career in London. What is the biggest difference working in the U.S. compared to the U.K.?
Generally, I’d say they are far more similarities working in the two markets than there are differences. However, a couple of key distinctions stand out that are specific to my specialism of financial restructuring. In the U.K. there isn’t really a debtor-in-possession concept per se, it’s far more of a creditor-led jurisdiction. By comparison, after filing for bankruptcy protection, the U.S. is very much more “business as usual.”
Partly related to that loss of control aspect is that bankruptcy proceedings in the U.K. also have far more negative connotations than they do here. Filing is a last resort option in the U.K., as it comes with significantly more reputational, operational and valuation implications for debtors than in the U.S. Here, the process can often be utilized as a strategic tool for a variety of reasons. I imagine that the majority of companies in Europe never re-emerge, with a filing more typically preceding a wind-down and piecemeal sale of assets, and distributions to unsecured, or even junior, creditors are a much rarer occurrence in the U.K. than here.
You joined CMA earlier this year from a larger, global firm. What are some of the benefits you find working for a smaller, boutique firm like CMA?
Personally, I find that the main benefit of a boutique firm is being able to work on a broader number and type of deals. The downside to very large-scale restructuring projects, whether in- or out-of-court, is that they can be full-time commitments that potentially endure for several years, limiting the diversity of your experience. More engagements provide enhanced opportunities to develop both your skillset and relationships.
You have experience working in a range of industries. Which sectors have seen the most change since you started your career? How so?
Based on my own direct experience, I would say energy. I’ve worked on several high-profile restructurings in the offshore oil and gas sector in particular in recent years, and the extent and speed of the decline, as well as the prolonged nature of the recovery, was almost inconceivable when I first left college.
More generally, I’ve been involved in many cases where the borrower is simply in an industry that is in terminal decline. As the rate of human innovation escalates at what seems like an exponential rate, contracting the typical lifecycle of products and services, it seems more important than ever for businesses to continuously ensure that their offerings remain relevant.
There is a lot of concern around a possible a recession in the near future. What would be your top-line message for businesses amidst these predictions?
As is also applicable at any other time of the economic cycle, the best advice is to begin dialogue with other stakeholders and/or reach out for professional assistance, earlier rather than later. Where necessary, corporations, lenders and investors should seek pre-emptive action that fully explores all the options available, positioning the business to endure any downturn in the event that demand softens or credit markets tighten.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve had on an engagement? How did you overcome it?
In the U.K., it’s often the case that when representing the administrators overseeing a bankruptcy proceeding, you’re required to directly implement corporate wind-downs on behalf of the creditors. I recall the first time I had to stand up in front of a couple of hundred strangers as a mere 25-year-old and notify them that the business would cease to trade immediately and that all their jobs would be permanently lost. Understandably, there is a great deal of anger, anxiety and sadness vented at you in those situations and there isn’t really training for that other than experience. Thankfully, given the debtor-in-possession concept, that aspect of the role is far less common here than in Europe. While it was important to be able to express as much humility and empathy as possible in the circumstances, it was even more important to be able to meaningfully assist the affected persons by ensuring that you were as armed with the facts about their next steps (how they can file claims, what their entitlements are, who to contact for what, etc.) as you possibly could be.