An Interview with Richard Tett, Freshfields Restructuring and Insolvency Practice in London
TMA UK has a rich and varied membership of turnaround and restructuring professionals working across a multitude of sectors in the United Kingdom and abroad.
Recently, we spoke with one of our members, Richard Tett, Leader of Freshfields’ Restructuring and Insolvency Practice in London. With more than 25 years of restructuring experience, Richard has worked extensively on ‘in court’ and ‘out of court’ restructurings/refinancings, intercreditor agreement disputes, formal insolvency appointments, high-yield bond and CMBS bond restructurings, distressed M&A, English schemes of arrangement and the new restructuring plans, US Chapter 11s, 15s and s363 sales, pension deficits, insurance workouts, telecoms, and insolvency aspects of structured finance.
We spoke with Richard about the beginnings of his career, his recent case that won ‘Restructuring Case of the Year’ and advice he would give to young professionals just starting out in the industry.
Question: How did you start out in your career?
Richard: “It would sound better if I could say that, since my teenager years, I had a passion to study the law and work on turnarounds; however, in reality I sort of stumbled into it. I started out studying biological sciences with a view to becoming a doctor, but over time that lost its appeal. I had friends at university who were law students and that seemed interesting, so I switched courses. I then did some law firm placements which I enjoyed, and I ended up at Freshfields.
After qualification, I was uncertain about staying in the law. I was in Litigation which I had enjoyed and one of the first cases I was put on was a large insolvency in Bermuda. That case involved staying in Bermuda for 1-2 months at a time, which greatly increased the appeal of staying in the law! It also set me on the path to working in turnaround, restructuring and insolvency.
As you can tell, this wasn’t a planned or strategic career move. I just kept working hard and following what I enjoyed - which was the advice my father had given me when I was growing up.”
Question: How important is it to have a network of peers and colleagues to be able to call upon in restructuring work?
Richard: “Crucial. It’s impossible to understate the importance of a network. Starting internally within Freshfields, colleagues/seniors are the best teachers and mentors. We often say that “steel sharpens steel”, so working for and with incredibly talented professionals is brilliant.
I’ve also been fortunate to work with tremendous fellow advisers in the financial/ turnaround management field, and with lawyers in other law firms. You can learn from everyone – both what works well and what doesn’t. I say to colleagues that we should aim to learn from every meeting/call one thing that went well and why, and one thing that did not and why not. Those points can come from any of the people there.
Back to networks, turnarounds and restructurings can be very intense, especially if you are juggling several significant mandates. The toughest deals are when you feel you don’t have anyone to talk to, to bounce ideas off, and just to download to. Colleagues and a network are vital to getting through those tougher times and to enjoying the work we do.
Separately, when it comes to work generation and to making deals run smoothly, having a wide network outside your own workplace is essential.
Lastly, a strong professional network makes the job much more fun. One of the joys as the years have rolled by is knowing more people, and seeing people growing and flourishing in their careers across the industry.”
Question: Your recent case, ED&F Man, won Restructuring Deal of the Year. What were the key challenges that the case presented and what made it a success?
Richard: “There were multiple creditor/equity classes, differing goals/agenda and, as a result, numerous advisers. Working with ED&F Man and the other advisers to pull that together was crucial. Also, the timeline was tight as the new money was urgently needed for the group to achieve the success that was needed to stabilise the business.
Separately, in summer 2020 and before our involvement started, ED&F Man had been through an intense A&E so there were some ‘legacy issues’ as the deal started. On top of that, the business operated through dozens of companies in dozens of countries – so that was another challenge.
So how did it succeed? A vital part was collaboration and teamwork across the stakeholders/ advisers – A&O/Teneo for the lenders and Norton Rose/PJT/we for the Company had regular calls to cut through points and avoid crossed wires. We tried to keep ‘relentlessly positive’ even when things seemed intractable.
Also, and crucially, the ED&F Man business and legal teams did a remarkable job grappling with their enormously increased demands on top of keeping the business humming through the process. Indeed, it’s been great to see ED&F Man flourish since the refinancing completed in March 2022.”
Question: How do you think the restructuring landscape is going to evolve in the coming years?
Richard: “It’s an important and exciting time for our industry. Post-Covid, there have been numerous predictions of a restructuring wave – all of which have proved misplaced so far. However, the debt burdens and the broken balance sheets are still all out there as global economies (at best) stutter. The era of artificially cheap money seems over and maturities are looming in the next 2-3 years. Also, with the ‘new normal’ settled (albeit volatile), people are less inclined to put in a little money just to buy time and see what happens.
At Freshfields and from conversations in the market, we are seeing notably increasing levels of activity – not the crashing wave of 2008/09, but it is very much a rising tide.
There are more “proper” restructurings happening, i.e. deleveraging/debt for equity (e.g. Flint, Matalan, Takko) as opposed to “just an A&E”. There are various new legal processes being tested (Dutch WHOA like Steinhoff, English Restructuring Plan like ED&F Man, German StaRUG like Leoni) and these raise new and interesting creative options for solutions.
Alongside this, for the right business, there is a lot of creative private capital available, so we are also seeing more capital solutions where the sponsor remains committed. We’re investing in that capital solutions space at Freshfields which is great.”
Question: What advice would you give to young professionals starting out in restructuring?
Richard: “I’m never too sure about giving advice as we are all different and we need to do what is right for ourselves (and our nearest/dearest), but here goes…
Do what you enjoy and ensure that you never become shackled to your job.
Look for and focus on the positives. It is a privilege to do our work. Lawyers (and I dare say others) can excel at seeing the glass half empty whilst missing the many amazing benefits of our jobs.
People enjoy working with upbeat enthusiastic people – so be one!
Stay curious – keep looking for new things and to learn.
Lastly, be nice to people and treat them as you want to be treated. Absolutely be tough when needed, but aim never to denigrate – you never know when you will need their help(!), but more importantly you want that wide strong network.”
About Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP is a global law firm with a long-standing track record of successfully supporting the world's leading national and multinational corporations, financial institutions, creditors and ad hoc groups, and governments on ground-breaking and business-critical mandates. Our 2,800 plus lawyers deliver results worldwide through our own offices and alongside leading local firms.
Our global restructuring and capital solutions team provides a full service offering across the restructuring and capital solutions space. We have a balanced practice of debtor and creditor mandates and represent all relevant constituencies in the capital stack including credit investors, lenders, sponsors and borrowers. We are involved in a broad range of work across the distressed spectrum including restructuring, private capital solutions, distressed M&A, corporate governance and advisory, formal insolvency proceedings and insolvency related litigation. Our specialist team comprises lawyers from a range of disciplines across Europe, the U.S. and Asia, and our global networks provide us with access to leading lawyers in over 150 countries. This means that we can help our clients however and wherever they need our support.
We have a reputation for acting on the largest, most complex situations globally and driving innovative and often precedent-setting solutions. We have been at the forefront of developments in the distressed markets and have acted on some of the biggest and most high-profile mandates of recent years including Accor Invest, Arcadia, Debenhams, ED&F Man, Four Seasons, Leoni, Malaysia Airlines, Nordic Aviation, Nyrstar, Revlon, Steinhoff and Takko.
For further information please consult our website or contact your usual Freshfields contact.
About TMA UK
TMA UK brings together professionals from across the UK, Europe and worldwide to meet, network and hear the latest news within business recovery, corporate turnaround and restructuring.
TMA UK and its members are dedicated to the development of a stronger economy through the restoration of corporate value.
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