Exclusive: Bell Gully’s future chairman eyes up the challenge

by Sophie Schroder21 Nov 2014
On Wednesday, the name of the man who is set to lead Bell Gully forward from early next year was revealed.

Chris Gordon is preparing to take the reins from current chairman Roger Partridge, who is retiring from the position after seven years in the role.

In an exclusive interview with NZ Lawyer, Gordon, who has over 27 years’ legal experience and is Bell Gully’s Wellington office chair and co-head of the firm’s energy and resources, and infrastructure groups, muses about what he’d like to bring to the table from 1 January next year.

Being elected as chairman is a privilege, he says, and he is humbled that the partners believe in him enough to vote him into the role.

“It’s pretty special to be asked to chair the firm when it’s in such good heart,” Gordon smiles. “The really neat and exciting thing that I’m relishing is getting to be able to work more closely with my Auckland team.”

In fact, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind for the lawyer since he discovered he was chairman-to-be last Friday.

He’s only just returned to New Zealand from a quick trip to Sydney, after which he stopped by the Auckland offices for a day to touch base with the team there before jumping on a plane back down to Wellington. Next on the agenda is a business trip over to Kuala Lumpur, although Gordon hopes he’ll get a little breather in-between.

But he wouldn’t have it any other way. His enthusiasm and dedication to Bell Gully is obvious to anyone, and he says he’s keen to contribute to the firm’s success and the happiness of its clients in any way he can.

“I was talking to one of my team members not too long ago and they asked me what I like about the job,” explains Gordon.

“I like that when I come into work each day, I don’t know what’s going to come…There is no grass that’s greener for me, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

He plans to continue the firm’s direction along the same fruitful path it has enjoyed under the careful leadership of current chairman Partridge, who managed to steer it successfully through the GFC, and out the other side.

Gordon's journey will be aided by litigation partner Ian Gault, who was named as the next deputy chairman. Based in Auckland, Gault’s roles have included litigation department leader and membership of the firm’s board.

He says he’s very much looking forward to supporting the new chairman and the firm throughout the chapters that lie ahead.

Gordon admits that of course there will be challenges: Bell Gully faces the same rapidly changing legal market that firms around the country - and indeed worldwide - are grappling with too.

Namely, this includes an ever-increasing demand from clients of more for less, making it vital for legal practitioners to ensure they’re adding real value in each and every case.

Gordon says as chairman he’s particularly looking forward to meeting the clients he hasn’t worked with before and learning from them.

“[It’s about] working collaboratively with our clients so we can best meet their needs,” he says.

“New Zealand is spoiled for good quality lawyers and law firms – there is always competition. You have to strive to do the best you can for your clients or someone else will do it instead.”

Gordon’s career highlights include the feeling he had on his very first day as a law clerk, being invited to join Bell Gully’s partnership… and now, of course, his election as chairman.

“[Although] that’s a highlight with a slight intake of breath,” he jokes. “It’s a wonderful challenge.”

He thinks back to his entrance into the legal profession almost three decades ago. He was part way through studying medicine at Victoria University of Wellington, but wasn’t feeling all that excited about it.

“I had friends who were studying law, and despite them saying, ‘don’t do it, don’t do it’, I did it anyway, and I haven’t looked back.”

Gordon loves law because wherever you look it has a significant role to play. Countries that don’t have very strong legal systems are the countries that have problems, he points out.

His passion for all things legal has only grown and developed over his many years with Bell Gully, and the chairman-to-be can’t envisage a life without it.

“[Bell Gully] is a pretty special place. Every time we have someone leave or do an OE, the leaving speeches are always the same – they talk about what a special culture we have. I see all the leaders of the firm, and particularly the chairman, as being the guardians of that culture.”