Posted: 01 Jul, 2021
Last week, TMA NextGen launched its ‘Fireside Chats’ series with guest speakers, and senior leads from Alvarez & Marsal, Richard Fleming and Mike Corner-Jones. Richard and Mike, along with their peers and anticipated future Fireside speakers, have played a central role in helping to develop the European industry. Our guests were invited to share their perspectives on how the industry has developed, and comment on some of the larger themes that could affect the “NextGen” going forward in their careers. Arjun Malhotra and Rachel Seeley, TMA NextGen London Committee members, co-hosted the event, drawing out Richard and Mike’s views on a wide range of topics including how the turnaround industry has changed since the global financial crisis and the industry’s diversity record. Richard and Mike also shared their views on how to achieve individual success and the most valuable lessons they have learnt throughout their careers.
If you missed the webinar or would like to watch again, you can find the recording here.
Opening the webinar, Arjun asked Richard how the turnaround industry has changed during the course of his career. Richard said that since he arrived in the UK 32 years ago, two months before the 1989 recession, he has seen the market mature to become one of the most developed in Europe. Discussing the development of ‘The London Approach’ in the mid 90s, trailblazers of the 00s, the big four and the global financial crisis, Richard and Mike agreed that the winners over the last 30 years have been those firms and professionals that have adapted and evolved with the market.
When asked by Arjun what next generation turnaround professionals can do to differentiate themselves as they look to develop in their careers, Richard’s view was that exceptional technical and operational skills are a given and will get you safely employed, well paid and well liked but “they won’t make you a rock star”. To be a “rock star”, Richard said it’s critical to develop commercial skills and spend time cultivating relationships. He said, “it’s not about reacting to when the phone rings but thinking about how you will make the phone ring”.
Mike agreed, adding that while technical skills are a given, it’s those people who want to take on the big problems and take the risk that are the ones who will succeed. “One of the things that comes with the job is sleepless nights”, Mike said. When asked by Rachel if he was referring to long hours in the office he said no, and that thankfully presenteeism is diminishing in the industry, but that he has often lain awake at night thinking about problems he has to solve such as “do I need to fire the CEO?” or “do I need to reduce the workforce?”.
When asked which soft skills Mike and Richard think are important to develop, Mike said he would encourage juniors to develop key relationships by networking with their peers but also by forming relationships with more senior professionals. Richard said he often takes juniors with him when he meets with clients and that relationships, whether with others in the industry or with clients, are the key to standing out and being successful.
Moving the conversation on, Arjun asked Richard when you know where to draw a line and admit that something is out of your sphere of expertise. Richard said it’s about integrity. “None of us know all the answers. Our job is to help the client or the situation and if someone else is better placed to do that then you need to give that advice,” Richard said. Agreeing with Richard, Mike said that most restructurings are only possible because you act as a team with other professionals such as your lawyer and financial advisor; “One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a youngster is thinking that if you aren’t able to help the situation yourself, you will come across badly. But everyone, even very senior professionals, rely on others”, Mike said.
Turning the conversation to company culture, diversity and inclusion, Rachel said that as a woman she is very conscious of the fact that at the senior level, the restructuring industry is dominated by straight white men and she asked Richard and Mike what their firm, Alvarez & Marsal, is doing to ensure diversity at the hiring stage is maintained as people become more senior. Answering her question, Mike said that diversity is very important to the company and its founders, one of whom, Tony Alvarez II was an immigrant to America from the Philippines in 1969. The firm is constantly assessing their culture, job adverts, and promotion criteria to ensure that inclusion and diversity are maintained. Changes such as making job descriptions and roles less “masculine” and the language used around team performance becoming more inclusive have taken on more importance. Richard noted that despite best efforts, there remains very little diversity amongst candidates for senior positions, which is something recruiters should also focus on.
Continuing with the theme of company culture, Arjun asked Richard about the shifting culture and mindset surrounding secondary parental leave. Richard said that he hopes most leaders today understand that parental leave is important but that if there’s resistance to it in an organisation, he thinks that indicates a change of leadership is needed.
Closing off the webinar, Richard and Mike shared some of the important lessons they have learnt over their careers with Richard saying that he learnt to have empathy very early on in his career when he had to tell a room of 300 people that their jobs were in jeopardy. He said that in restructuring, it’s important to remember that people’s lives are affected by decisions you take. Reflecting on his time with Eircom, the largest examinership case in Irish history, Mike said that one of the most important lessons he has learnt is to work as a team with other professional advisors, building on the earlier theme that nothing can be achieved by oneself. In the case of Eircom, the team managed to pull off what the senior corporate Judge at the time described as “the model examinership” in just six weeks.
Thank you to Richard and Mike for sharing their insights and to Arjun and Rachel for hosting the first of our Fireside Chats. Where permitted, we hope future events will be held in person and details of these will made available on our events page in due course.
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