1. What was your first job?
I am still in my first job. I started in 1985 at a London-based law firm with few partners and a couple of “foreign” offices. I am now at the same firm, Hogan Lovells, but with nearly 50 global offices, over 5,000 people and an almost US$2bn turnover, with more than 100 lawyers in South Africa.
I have been lucky enough never to have been bored and always to have had close friends at the firm, as enthusiasm and collaboration are key to stickability. I was on our managing committee driving through major expansion globally and was head of our global corporate practice in the 2000s. I now I find myself with exciting new challenges across Africa working with our global teams to develop work and relationships from Johannesburg and through the continent, consolidating close links with many of the best firms there are.
2. What parts of your job keep you awake at night?
I find the new world post Brexit and Trump to be challenging emotionally and business wise. There is a concern that Africa will find itself sidelined as each country or bloc puts itself first, and I fear for my three daughters in an increasingly insular world that they may not have the same opportunities to live and work in a diverse landscape as my generation. But you cannot live in fear and there are real opportunities to be grasped in a disrupted world when you work with visionaries and determined enthusiasts as I do. I see great scope for Africa to stand up for itself and thrive in chaotic markets as others seek to scramble for influence.
3. Who has had the biggest impact on your career?
George Cawkwell, my ancient history tutor at Oxford who pushed me to the law, and Belinda, my wife, a full-time dressage rider who has a fine disregard for lawyers and gives me balance and support.
4. The best professional advice you’ve ever received?
My father used to say, “Never trust someone who comes to you on a point of principle.”
5. The top reasons why you have been successful in business?
Success comes in many forms. I have excelled because I had a good grounding with great teachers and applied myself rigorously to develop myself and my team with great clients. I have survived and thrived because I am an enthusiastic, innovative and flexible thinker and have fantastic colleagues and clients who are friends. Finally, I have learned to understand what I do not know and delegate accordingly.
6. Where’s the best place to prepare for leadership? Business school or on the job?
I grew up in an era of learning on the job. There is no substitute for experience, but given that this means learning from mistakes, sometimes it would help to have a bit of advance warning through training.
7. How do you relax?
I am privileged to be on the advisory board of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. This allows me to meet many in the art community across Africa, from collectors and curators to artists. My favourite moment of the last year was working with Professor Bruce Onobrakpeya and his Harmattan School on an exhibition in Lagos. Beyond that I am learning stone masonry.
8. By what time in the morning do you like to be at your desk?
I spend at least a week a month in different African countries and usually have no fixed desk. I get up any time after 4am, depending on which African country I am visiting that day.
9. Your favourite job interview question?
What will you add to our team and what do you think you need to develop most to thrive in it?
10. What is your message to Africa’s aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs?
Africa stand up. The world is increasingly inward looking and we need to be active in promoting business into, from and within Africa with confidence.