We welcome Stephen Rosser, Chief Executive of Clarke Willmott, to our regular series of interviews with leading figures in the South West business community.
Hello Stephen, tell us about Clarke Willmott and your role as Chief Executive
Clarke Willmott is a multi office and multi disciplinary law firm with expertise in private client and commercial law. We have offices in Birmingham, Bristol, London, Manchester, Southampton and Taunton. Our turnover is £35m and we have 550 staff, the practice was formed back in 1898 in Somerset but has expanded into a national player. As Chief Executive, I fulfil the role of Managing Partner to the firm. I am the Chairman of the Executive Board, which includes members covering our four key areas of business: property, litigation, private client and commercial. We also have a Finance Director and an HR Director. Most of my work is operational and strategic in nature, I talk to partners to develop and implement strategy for the business. My role is people focused meeting with clients and members of CW. I visit every Clarke Willmott office at least once per month to update them on the latest issues. Communication among offices is vital for smooth operations and it’s important for leaders to be visible and engaging with their staff.
How has the economic recession impacted your business?
Transactions have slowed down, Mergers and Acquisitions in corporate especially. After the 2008 crash, the property market has been challenging but we are busy in other property areas like planning, construction and management. We have also seen an upturn in residential development. We are on the forefront for Social Housing. We are seeing a lot more activity in brand protection and IP issues. The private client side is very busy, especially with taxation and inheritance issues. Agriculture is an expanding sector that presents us with the need for complex advice on land pricing, taxation, tenancies, holdings and succession planning. We have found success by concentrating on our core offerings and finding the opportunities within those areas.
What challenges are you facing over the next 12 months?
The key challenge for us is regulatory change. There is lots of upcoming legislation concerning referral fees, conditional fee arrangements and legal aid that will have a massive impact on the legal sector. There is also increasing competition from ‘Alternative Business Structure’ firms (where non-lawyer owned businesses can offer certain legal services). Like any business we need to grow organically while dealing with threats from the environment and competitors.
Do you think that the government is doing enough to support your sector?
I don’t think the government fully understands the legal sector. There are consequences for change and the current government seems to be doing a lot of abolishing without supplying viable alternatives. I have concerns about reduced access to justice for those that really need it. It is also going to have a big effect on the Court Service, who will have to deal with more people representing themselves.
What is your view on the South West business scene?
Bristol has a buoyant legal sector with a good community that performs well in many areas. I think it is telling that more London firms are opening offices in Bristol. The South West has been more resilient than some areas of the country; the Midlands have been hit pretty hard. The South coast seems to be doing ok, thanks in part to the knock on effect of the London bounce.
Do you have any Non-Executive Directorships? If so, what have you learned from the experience?
I am chairman for a not for profit affordable housing provider called The Bristowe Fair Rent Housing Association. We operate 70 social housing properties across the city. The position gives me useful insight into the sharp end of social housing issues, which informs my actions at Clarke Willmott. I am also a trustee at Penny Brohn Cancer Care.
Do you have any advice that you’d pass on to a newly appointed company director?
Be visible, communicate effectively and make sure that you have a good executive team around you.
What do you like to do outside of work?
I’m a keen runner: I have completed the London marathon three times, but now I mainly focus on half marathons and 10k. I’m also moving into triathlons, which presents a challenge as most of my experience is on the running side rather than swimming or cycling. I also enjoy water sports such as wakeboarding and water skiing.
Who is your hero/personal inspiration?
I have no one particular hero. I do draw inspiration from my father, a GP who taught me to lead by example.
What is on your I-Pod and what are you reading right now?
I don’t like to listen to music while running as I fear I may be distracted and get run over! I have a very wide musical taste, from the Vaccines to Pink Floyd. My children keep me up to date with more modern music as well as the songs I enjoy from my youth. I’m currently reading Hillary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies; I studied history when I was younger and I am impressed by how she can humanise historical events and make them relatable.
What has been your experience of working with our company?
Moon Consulting always give a positive impression. They have a massive network of contacts and events run by them always have good speakers and draw a high quality crowd.
Stephen Rosser is Chief Executive of Clarke Willmott. Stephen's expertise is in commercial property, with a particular emphasis on lease drafting, landlord and tenant law, licensed premises, business sales, acquisitions, major portfolio disposals, complex secured lending advice and development projects. He often acts for local authorities in relation to regeneration schemes and for lending institutions with regard to their provision of funds to universities, colleges and schools. He has been recognised as a commercial property expert by the Chambers and Legal Experts directories.
Stephen was elected Chairman in December 2009 and became Chief Executive in May 2010.