After a four-year history degree, Edward Whittington wasn’t sure what should come next, but he did know that London wasn’t for him. He trained as a lawyer with a regional firm and began specialising in rural property. It was the process of carving out this niche, winning clients and networking, that set him on the path to management.
“It was in the process of specialising in rural property that I began to build a practice - I wasn’t in a firm that did it so I needed to make friends and win clients. When I had more work than I needed, I would bring someone in, which naturally led me to management. From there, I was known as someone who could run commercial property.”
Having been co-head of the real estate division, he took over as Managing Partner in 2017 at the tender age of 39. His predecessor, David Thompson, had been 64 and he was aware at the time that it was a huge risk: “The risk was that I didn’t know whether I’d be any good at it!”
Nevertheless, he had picked up some skills along the way. He knew how to motivate people and he had a clear vision of the future. He felt he had a reasonably high ‘EQ’, was naturally collaborative and believed in looking after people.
Not that he didn’t make mistakes. As a young Managing Partner, initially he was clear that he wanted to keep his client work going. He spent a long time trying to do 50/50 and feeling like he was letting both sides down: “Eventually he realised that if he wanted to make a good go of it, he needed to focus.”
And so he did. “I relied heavily on external and internal help. I also took a lot of coaching to help me make the right decisions. All the functions needed to be run by good people – from business development to marketing to the finance function. Each of them needed a person to set the vision, to manage the energy of all the people. I had to be there to help.”
It took six to 12 months to build a vision for the firm and even longer to build consensus for change. However, some of those changes have been significant. He says: “It took a long time to get things moving, but we’ve achieved a lot since then. Notably, we’ve equitised the entire partnership. People have put capital in, in return for profit share. In doing this, we have raised working capital and helped forge a culture of togetherness. Everyone has skin in the game.”
Edward admits it was a major cultural change, but there are now 52 partners, each with an interest in the performance of the partnership. It is managed by a smaller group who can make decisions quickly. He adds: “They trust us to get on with it. In return, we are absolutely transparent in the decisions we make and why.”
He is great believer in the power of coaching, pointing out that the chief executives of major enterprises are usually coached every week. He says that Managing Partners can always learn and always be better.
Edward’s main goal is to attract and retain the best people. That means creating the right working environment and having a clear focus on what the firm stands for: “Generally speaking, we’re not competing against the Big 4 accounting firms or Magic Circle law firms. The people who join us don’t tend to be interested in working for large corporations. We know what we’re good at and we’re getting better at it.”
He believes there is a bright future for regional practices as a lot of London firms look more internationally: “We believe that leaves a more UK-based client base that needs our help.”
By necessity, this briefing can only provide a short overview and it is essential to seek professional advice before applying the contents of this article. This briefing does not constitute advice nor a recommendation relating to the acquisition or disposal of investments. No responsibility can be taken for any loss arising from action taken or refrained from on the basis of this publication. Details correct at time of writing.
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