Introducing… NZ's Managing Partner of the Year

by Sophie Schroder10 Nov 2014
Bell Gully chairman Roger Partridge says being named Managing Partner of the Year at the Tenth Annual New Zealand Law Awards last Thursday night is all the more special because it coincides with the end of his seven-year term.
This coming Friday, the firm will appoint the chairman’s successor at the annual partner meeting, and Partridge says with such a great leadership team, he has no doubt the transition will be seamless.
“The most gratifying thing is the firm’s reputation has continued to strengthen. I don’t think we’ve ever had such an engaged group of staff and partners than we’ve got now. We’re in great shape – we’re very fortunate.”
He says winning the highly coveted NZ Law Award, sponsored by Crowe Horwath, is a “nice note to end on”, and rounds out his time as the firm’s chairman, a role he started at the age of just 46, and right when “the world turned on its head” and the GFC hit.
Speaking exclusively with NZ Lawyer, Partridge says when he agreed to take on the task of Bell Gully’s chairman in November 2007, he was concerned he was too young, but as the economy was booming he thought, “how hard could it be?”
And then the world market collapsed, and the top-class lawyer was left with the daunting job of carrying the firm through the tough times.
His award is a recognition of just how good a job he’s done.
He decided to change focus and take advantage of the booming PPP market and mixed-ownership models – something he thinks has been one of the firm’s biggest success stories.
“That wasn’t a strategic focus prior to the GFC,” he says. “There was a real handbrake on transactional action. It was about helping the firm refocus on where there were opportunities and prospects for growth.”
Another major focus was on strengthening ties with Asian law firms in order to take advantage of the massive pick up of work there.
Partridge likes to think the secret to his success is “patience, planning and perseverance”, and he says that especially during the harder economic times from 2008 to 2010, it was vital that the firm “ran fast” to stay on top of issues.
Bell Gully achieved this by successfully implementing efficiency measures to make the firm more competitive. A major strategy came from a decisive focus on relationships with clients, which saw Partridge conducting regular client reviews with Bell Gully’s COO to ensure this was functioning well.
But over the past 12 months, and the market has once again been loosening making it a good time to be stepping down, he says.
That doesn’t mean the next chairman won’t have their work cut out for them; Partridge says there is still a lot of “unfinished business”.
Namely, his drive to promote gender equality among the firm’s partners, something he admits many firms, including Bell Gully, still have a way to go on.
“That’s still a work in progress, but an important focus for the firm. I’d put that in the top three issues for us at the moment. “
And for the future, Partridge is looking forward to focusing on his litigation practice which he’s been progressively building up again over the past two years in preparation for the end of his term as chairman.
Impressively, he’s now close to having a full list of clients. He’s also set to inherit the team of fellow litigation partner Ralph Simpson, who received the surprise Lifetime Achievement Award at the NZ Law Awards in recognition of his bold decision to retire from the firm at the end of the year to move to Thailand and join the fight against sex trafficking.
Partridge has committed to working as a litigation partner for at least a year at Bell Gully, and he says it’s a case of wait and see beyond that.
But there is no doubt this Managing Partner of the Year has done the firm proud, and, alongside his team of “amazing” people, successfully guided it through darker economical times and out the other side.
“It’s been a privilege having the partners trust me with chairing the firm though a challenging period – I’ve loved it and I´m ready for a change,” Partridge says.