Could you provide a brief journey of how you arrived where you are today?
I was born and brought up in Yorkshire, England, studied Law at the University of Sheffield and then joined Eversheds as a trainee solicitor. I worked with Eversheds for four years before moving to Dubai in 2002, where I worked with another City of London firm for three years before I returned to Eversheds in the UK. I moved to Qatar in October 2007 to lead Eversheds’ regional banking and Islamic finance team.
What does your role involve?
I am responsible for developing Eversheds’ banking and Islamic finance business in the region. This involves building upon our strong base of clients in Qatar and the UAE (where we have offices) and the surrounding countries. We act for both lenders and borrowers; that makes our work range diverse and interesting.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
One of the work-related achievements that I am particularly pleased about at the moment is that Eversheds was recently awarded the International Financial Law Review’s award for the National Law Firm of the Year for Qatar. Over the last year Eversheds’ Islamic finance team, supported by other colleagues, has worked on a number of innovative transactions and ‘first’ deals for Qatar. It was great to see our hard work and efforts being recognized.
Which of your products/services deliver the best results?
This is an easy question for a law firm — our legal services! We are a full-service law firm and provide all the services that can be expected of a leading international law firm.
What are the strengths of your business?
We work on a range of transactions covering Shariah compliant asset, project and trade financing. One of our strengths is therefore the width and depth of our offering. Also, we are finding that Eversheds’ unique approach to client service delivery stands us apart from many of our peers.
We have developed a tool called ‘Deal Track’ which is used for non-contentious matters to help us to accurately scope out a transaction and document our preferred road map for executing the transaction. This tool also helps us to itemize actions required together with the time and cost involved.
The agreed scope provides a high level of accountability and cost certainty to our clients. As our Islamic finance team spans the three core geographical areas for Islamic finance (Europe, Middle East and Far East), we find that this is particularly attractive to our clients.
What are the factors contributing to the success of your company?
With law firms it is always about the people — both clients and colleagues. We have a great team in Eversheds globally who are committed to growing the Islamic finance team and we have the continued support of a number of impressive and remarkable clients. It is also helpful that we have a strong vision about where we want to be in the Islamic finance sector together with a strategy to get us there.
What are the obstacles faced in running your business today?
I think we are all waiting to see exactly what the effects of the current global economic downturn will be. While law firms can be busy regardless of where we are in the economic cycle, I feel that the opportunities that exist at the time of economic growth are much more satisfying.
One of the other key obstacles that many professional service providers face in this region is that of intellectual capital. We, like many of our peers, face an ongoing challenge of trying to bring in the right caliber and type of individuals to ensure we can continue to deliver the high standard of services that our clients expect from us.
We also are keen to give something back to the local community and, where possible, we are trying to bring in lawyers from the region to join our expanding teams in Qatar and the UAE.
Where do you see the Islamic finance industry in, say, the next five years?
I think professionals who are engaged in Islamic finance at the moment have a key role to play in taking this industry forward in the coming five years. We are witnessing an unprecedented level of interest in alternative forms of financing. The time is right for regional banks and other interested parties to take the lead and help showcase the benefits of Shariah compliant financing.
Although I have not really seen anyone taking up the baton so far, I think if there is sufficient thought leadership in the Islamic finance market, the future of Islamic financing could be very bright. I would like to see more of the regional Islamic finance professionals take the lead in terms of suggesting commercially viable Shariah compliant solutions. There needs to be further research and development and people should not be afraid of starting from a clear slate and challenging current norms and agreed wisdoms.
Name one thing you would like to see change in the world of Islamic finance?
To borrow a phrase from the UK political scene of the 1990s, I would like to see Islamic finance going ‘back to the basics’. Some of the core issues surrounding Islamic finance stem from a failure of people who are engaged in product development to start with the basics. The Quran and the Sunnah provide guidance which is not affected by the passage of time.