DWF’s Leaitherland steps down as CEO with immediate effect

Andrew Leaitherland

Leeds and Manchester-based law firm DWF announced today that chief executive Andrew Leaitherland is stepping down with immediate effect

He will also step down as managing partner of DWF Law LLP and DWF LLP.

Mr Leaitherland steered the firm through an IPO process last year when the firm became the first main market premium listed legal business when it floated on the London Stock Exchange in March.

He has spent more than 20 years at DWF and has been CEO and managing partner of the group since May 2006.

During his tenure, he has been instrumental in expanding the Group from two offices in the UK to 33 offices across four continents.

The board has asked chairman, Sir Nigel Knowles, to assume the role of group chief executive with immediate effect.

He has more than 40 years of experience in the legal sector, including extensive experience in building a global law firm as CEO and chairman for more than 20 years.

Chris Sullivan, senior independent non-executive director, has been appointed as interim chairman. A committee of independent directors has been formed to run a selection process for a permanent chairperson over the coming weeks.

Mr Sullivan said: “On behalf of the board and all our colleagues I would like to thank Andrew for his hard work and commitment over many years; we owe him a great deal and wish him every success in his future endeavours.

“In these unprecedented times the board believes that Sir Nigel’s extensive experience in building and leading a global legal business will be invaluable as group chief executive officer in ensuring that our strategy delivers sustainable growth and attractive returns for all our stakeholders.”

Andrew Leaitherland said: “It has been a privilege to be group CEO of DWF for nearly 14 years and I am incredibly proud of the progress we have made in that time.

“It is a fantastic business with great people committed to delivering the best possible service to our clients. I wish Sir Nigel every success in taking the business forward.”

Sir Nigel Knowles said: “I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to serve as the group’s chairman and even more honoured to have been asked now to lead the company as its group chief executive officer. Andrew helped build a great business for which we are very grateful and we wish him the very best.”

DWF also issued a trading update today that said, on March 27, 2020, the company announced that the COVID-19 pandemic was impacting its business and that it expected revenue growth of between 15% to 20% for the financial year.

In the event, the disruption experienced in April was greater than anticipated and as a result revenues grew by around 11% over the financial year.

The impact and timing of COVID-19 gave little opportunity for remedial action in this financial year, further reducing the goup’s profit expectations for fiscal year 2020, with expected FY20 EBITDA of around £34m under IFRS16, with underlying adjusted EBITDA of approximately £21m, excluding the application of IFRS16.

The group has seen activity levels strengthen in May with a number of new client wins, including panel appointments, and with a good pipeline of bid activity.

Although activity levels in April were impacted, April was the group’s strongest ever in terms of billings and cash collection, driven by a concerted action from the partners, with more than £40m of billings and in excess of £45m of cash collected.

While April is a key cash collection month, the group is seeing this trend continue in May, supported by the high level of billings in April and strong cash collections from its institutional client base.

As a result, period end net debt was better than expected at £64.9m, well within the group’s total available facilities of £122m.

The group operates and expects to continue to operate within the banking covenants agreed with its lenders under the terms of the revolving credit facility.

Sir Nigel said: “Whilst today’s trading update shows there are near term challenges to be overcome, there is a significant opportunity to deliver attractive returns for our shareholders by consolidating the growth achieved to date and building an even stronger global platform centred around DWF’s Complex, Managed and Connected delivery model.

“I look forward to working with the existing strong management team to both navigate through the near term challenges presented by the external environment and on executing on our stated longer term strategy.”

In current trading, early indications for May show improved activity compared with April, as well as to the same period last year.

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