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Thought Leaders

Thought Leaders

Alex Lawson

Alex Lawson

Alvarez & MarsalFlagship Building2nd Floor, 70 Harbour DriveGeorge Town, Grand CaymanCayman IslandsKY1-1104

Thought Leader

Thought Leaders - Restructuring & Insolvency Advisers 2020

Q&A

WWL Ranking: Thought Leader

WWL says

Alex Lawson’s “commercial judgement and ability to problem-solve are second to none”, effuse sources, who add that he keeps “a cool head under pressure and is a pleasure to work with at all times”.

Questions & Answers

Alex Lawson is managing director and head of Alvarez & Marsal’s Cayman Islands office. He has an LLB and a Bachelor of Commerce degree (double majoring in finance and accounting) from the University of Queensland. He is certified as a chartered accountant (Australia and New Zealand); a legal practitioner (the Supreme Court of Queensland; non-practising); a JIEB passholder (the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales); and a member of CIIPA, RISA and ISNOL.

How did you get to the position you are in now?

While at university in 2003, I was fortunate to get a part-time job at KordaMentha in Brisbane, working under John Park, and immediately got exposure to some great restructuring and insolvency work. I was simply hooked by the industry and the chance to be faced with such critical issues, and to be part of a team that was responsible for finding a solution and driving through the execution. I went full-time as soon as I could and finished my commerce and law degrees thanks to some flexible working hours. I went on to study my chartered accountancy qualification and then went on to the legal practice course.

From KordaMentha, I joined the Deloitte team in Brisbane, working under John Greig, and was there at a time of great growth for the team and the firm, which further honed my skills and exposure to the full spectrum of lender advisory, investigations, restructuring and insolvency.

Like most Australians, I had an urge to work overseas, and through my friend Josh Taylor (now a leading practitioner in Singapore) discovered opportunities in the Cayman Islands. It was early 2008 and the sub-prime collapse had already begun, so by the time I joined KPMG in the Cayman Islands in June, working under Simon Whicker and Kris Beighton, who were both excellent mentors to me, the industry was getting set for the financial crisis. I have been very busy ever since and made partner at KPMG in early 2015.

Having formed a view that the industry was evolving, and in the face of ever-growing conflict issues across the Big Four, I led the launch of Alvarez & Marsal’s new office in the Cayman Islands in July 2018 with Chris Kennedy and Barry Lynch. We have since hand-picked outstanding talent across the island and internationally to grow the Cayman team to 15 people. We are part of A&M’s global team with over 4,500 people across four continents.

The fact that A&M is truly one global firm, its strength, energy, approach and leadership made it an easy decision for me to join and help launch a new presence/offering for the firm. It has been the most rewarding aspect of my career to date and there is real excitement and passion within the team. Our passion pushes all of us to continue to grow the firm globally and help organisations transform operations, drive growth and accelerate results through decisive action.

What skills do you think are necessary to be a successful cross-border restructuring practitioner?

The most important skill is to fully understand each jurisdiction and the corporate, restructuring and insolvency regimes under which it operates, along with the business culture. Only then do you create a solution that is focused on value that is capable of execution and success.

No one person can be an expert on all jurisdictions – so having key relationships within your own firm globally, and across the lawyers and lenders or investors who are experts in their respective fields within those jurisdictions, is a crucial element to success. Ultimately, the best plan needs execution and the best insolvency practitioners use all the tools available to them, not just theoretical cross-border concepts, to deliver the best result. Flexibility in thinking and innovation are key requirements.

If practitioners put commerciality and finding value at the cornerstone of their plan, gain the right understanding and experience, and can build and use their relationships across the globe, then they are set up for success.

What, if anything, do you think gives the Cayman Islands the edge over other offshore jurisdictions?

The Cayman Islands is the global leader in the offshore financial world and its success and continued growth are based on the following pillars.

First, stable government – it is a British Overseas Territory. Second, common law and an excellent judiciary with a specialised financial services division within the Grand Court. Third, excellent professionals across all aspects of financial services – the professional talent pool in the Cayman Islands is outstanding. Finally, it sets the gold standard for compliance and anti-money laundering across the offshore jurisdictions.

In a large proportion of cross-border restructurings and insolvencies, by virtue of the typical corporate or fund structures, there is generally a Cayman Islands entity or angle that needs consideration. Accordingly, there are both familiarity and levels of certainty of outcome that make the Cayman Islands both attractive and effective.

If you were an investor in distressed markets right now, what moves would you be making?

With covid-19, the global economy is in uncharted territory and any distressed investor is well placed to achieve outsized returns. The challenge is to be very industry-focused and find balance sheets that are still strong. Almost all businesses are facing a cash-flow crisis, but beyond providing working capital solutions, an investor must assess what the new normal will look like for any industry after covid-19. They will not be able to rely on previous forecasting models, as the demand profile and client/consumer needs may have permanently changed, or at a minimum will have evolved.

There are strong wins to be had in the hotel and leisure sectors, and the opportunity to invest in some marquee properties or developments should not be missed as everyone in that sector has been affected by the impact of covid-19.

What are the main challenges currently facing international restructuring and insolvency practices?

The challenge for the Big Four is threefold: they have significant conflict issues; they are in the midst of a generational change, combined with a talent drain that is compounding succession issues; and their franchise model doesn’t lend itself to efficient or perfectly aligned and coordinated cross-border restructurings. Their legacy is such that most of them will remain players in certain jurisdictions for the foreseeable future, but all have real headwinds to deal with.

The challenge for specialist firms is ensuring that they have the global footprint to deliver on large engagements, and that they continue to keep the quality at the highest level while experiencing strong growth.

So as the evolution of the industry continues, I expect to see Alvarez & Marsal, FTI and Alix Partners continue to grow and build strong market share, while also securing the best talent to ensure long-term success and dominance.

How do you see the top end of the international restructuring market changing in the next few years?

There is a natural generational change working its way through the industry leadership, so those firms that are best able to transfer knowledge to the new wave, and achieve strong succession planning that maintains the culture of the firm and top-class output, are well placed to capitalise.

As it relates to the offshore restructuring market, with any major downturn there is something of a resetting of the track record. It is the results that are achieved in this current environment, and by which firms, that will greatly influence market share of the top-end restructurings for the next five or more years.


What is the most memorable case you have worked on in your career so far?

It is generally moments across many cases that stand out, as opposed to any single case; I have found there are typically one or two key moments in every case where your skills and strategy are really tested, and which will largely drive the outcome of the case.

Some standouts for me have included having to talk my way out of a standoff with unpaid miners in South Africa, which had some interesting moments to say the least! Also having to investigate high-profile political figures and separately leading the negotiation on a “couldn’t be done” settlement worth $2 billion, which took a lot of preparation, but was ultimately achieved in one day of sit-down settlement talks.

I had to pull off the sale of a business in 36 hours before all value was lost, which certainly focused the mind. I managed to get two bidders to the table and create sufficient competitive tension to get a fair price and achieve continuity of service for over 5,000 customers.

What is the best piece of career advice you have ever received?

As it relates to work, from day one of an engagement, always focus on finding the value that can benefit creditors/stakeholders, and have a plan of how to get that value to them.

For career advice, be the person who both seizes and creates opportunities, and then always deliver for your creditors/stakeholders. If you can do that, then you are capable of building the firm, and promotions and success will follow you.

Finally, and most importantly, be a team player and lead by example.

Global Leader

Asset Recovery - Experts 2020

Professional Biography

WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

Alex Lawson is held in high esteem for his significant experience in complex cross-border asset recovery and insolvency proceedings.

Biography

Alex Lawson is a managing director and the head of A&M Cayman Islands and is a qualified Cayman Islands insolvency practitioner.

He brings over 15 years of experience in restructuring and specialises in offshore and cross-border engagements. His primary areas of concentration include hedge funds and PE funds, mining, oil and gas and alternative investments.

Mr Lawson leads international teams focused on delivering bespoke solutions to maximise stakeholder returns across stressed to distressed situations involving complex cross-border cases. With a strong focus across all hedge funds and PE funds, international corporations and conglomerates, Mr Lawson has developed a reputation as an industry leader in the offshore restructuring market and has been recognised as an expert in the field by Who’s Who Legal.

Mr Lawson has been appointed by the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands as an inspector, provisional liquidator, and official liquidator to many high-profile cases. In addition, he has been appointed as a controller by CIMA and acted as voluntary liquidator to many Cayman Islands registered companies. Outside of the Cayman Islands, he has been appointed joint liquidator by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court over British Virgin Islands companies and has been recognised in the Courts of Norway, Hong Kong, Dubai, United States and Australia.

Prior to joining A&M, Mr Lawson worked at KPMG in the Cayman Islands for ten years and was a partner in the restructuring practice.

Mr Lawson earned bachelor’s degrees in both commerce and law from the University of Queensland. He is an admitted lawyer (non-practicing) with the Supreme Court of Queensland, Australia and is a CPI and JIEB pass holder with the Insolvency Practitioners Association of England and Wales and member of INSOL and the Cayman Islands RISA chapter. Mr Lawson is an insolvency practitioner in the Cayman Islands and chartered accountant (Australia and New Zealand) as well as a member of the Cayman Islands Society for Professional Accountants (CISPA).

WWL Ranking: Recommended

WWL says

Alex Lawson stands out a prominent insolvency practitioner with over 15 years' experience in offshore and cross-border proceedings.

Biography

Alex Lawson is a managing director and the head of A&M Cayman Islands and is a qualified Cayman Islands insolvency practitioner.

He brings over 15 years of experience in restructuring and specialises in offshore and cross-border engagements. His primary areas of concentration include hedge funds and PE funds, mining, oil and gas and alternative investments.

Mr Lawson leads international teams focused on delivering bespoke solutions to maximise stakeholder returns across stressed to distressed situations involving complex cross-border cases. With a strong focus across all hedge funds and PE funds, international corporations and conglomerates, Mr Lawson has developed a reputation as an industry leader in the offshore restructuring market and has been recognised as an expert in the field by Who’s Who Legal.

Mr Lawson has been appointed by the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands as an inspector, provisional liquidator, and official liquidator to many high-profile cases. In addition, he has been appointed as a controller by CIMA and acted as voluntary liquidator to many Cayman Islands registered companies. Outside of the Cayman Islands, he has been appointed joint liquidator by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court over British Virgin Islands companies and has been recognised in the Courts of Norway, Hong Kong, Dubai, United States and Australia.

Prior to joining A&M, Mr Lawson worked at KPMG in the Cayman Islands for ten years and was a partner in the restructuring practice.

Mr Lawson earned bachelor’s degrees in both commerce and law from the University of Queensland. He is an admitted lawyer (non-practicing) with the Supreme Court of Queensland, Australia and is a CPI and JIEB pass holder with the Insolvency Practitioners Association of England and Wales and member of INSOL and the Cayman Islands RISA chapter. Mr Lawson is an insolvency practitioner in the Cayman Islands and chartered accountant (Australia and New Zealand) as well as a member of the Cayman Islands Society for Professional Accountants (CISPA).

WWL Ranking: Recommended
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