NZ Lawyer Hot List lawyer: Sabbatical 'en France'

This top-tier big-hitter recently took an entire year off from practise. How did he wangle it, and how did he spend the year? Read on…

NZ Lawyer Hot List lawyer: Sabbatical 'en France'
Russell McVeagh partner and former chairman, Grant Kemble, has seen his practice substantially reinvigorated following his return from a sabbatical in France three years ago.

Kemble made a promise to himself early on that he would take a year off mid-career to reassess his priorities – and in 2010 he did just that.

“I actually left Russell McVeagh,” Kemble tells NZ Lawyer. “I had just finished my two-year term as chairman of the firm and I packed up my family and went and spent a year in France. I didn’t do a lot over there; I coached my son’s rugby team (60 French 12-year-olds). I ran a few half-marathons, learnt the language, drank a fair bit of French wine and had some friends and family over.”

However, the plan was always to return to New Zealand, and Kemble has returned with a vengeance.

Since his return to Russell McVeagh, Kemble has been involved in a number of significant transactions (see list below) – many of which involved clients new to the firm.
“When I left the firm, I handed over all of my relationships, some to several younger partners who were coming through,” he says. “And I was pretty determined when I came back that I wasn’t going to try and take those relationships back, both because it would have been the wrong thing to do for those younger partners, but also because I wanted to challenge myself to go out and get new clients and get new work and do some new things. So my practice has changed a wee bit in terms of new clients and new practice areas, but the main strength of what I do hasn’t changed.”

Much of that initial effort involved cold-calling potential clients and Kemble says he got stuck into locating potential clients even before his return to New Zealand.

“I’d started it when I was in France; I started talking to people and had a couple of approaches when I was in France,” he says. “And then when I came back, very quickly, in three or four days, I started meeting people and started talking to people about a range of things; whether I could create an opportunity or whether there were existing opportunities out there for me.”

Kemble admits he considered “a range of different options” before opting to return to Russell McVeagh, but says his final decision was absolutely the right one.

“I did think about a range of different options, including within law,” he says. “But I quite like having really good people around me and I certainly had the realisation that I liked to be challenged and to work reasonably hard.”

Going forward, Kemble says there are a number of places he would still like to take his career.

“I still think I’ve got a few things to do in law,” says Kemble. “I really want to continue to challenge myself as a more senior guy in the firm to do difficult jobs, attract difficult work and get more junior partners involved in that work. I’ve also taken on my first directorship, at Airways Corporation. I’ve only been in the seat for a year, so I’m still getting to grips with that challenge. So there’s a few more things for me to do yet before I can say I’ve done all I want to achieve.”

In his spare time, Kemble has a passion for boxing.

“I’ve been doing that for about eight years now, [usually] two or three times a week,” says Kemble. “I have, in the past, done a little bit of sparring, but not much of that anymore – it’s just training sessions, really, now. Other than that, my interests have always been sport-orientated and that continues within the limitations of time – I have a big family and a big practice. I’ve got four kids between nine and 17, so they’re really a big focus of mine.”

Grant Kemble – highlights of recent work
  • Complectus in 2014 on its acquisition of New Zealand Guardian Trust
  • The 2011 establishment of New Zealand Local Government Funding Agency, a joint venture between the Crown and an initial 18 New Zealand Local Authorities
  • Goodman Property Trust on over $850 million of capital raisings
  • Guardians of New Zealand Superannuation in 2012 on the acquisition of an additional interest in the Kaingaroa Timberlands partnership
  • Precinct Properties in 2013 on its placement and share purchase plan
  • Bathurst Resources group in 2013 on its re-domiciliation in New Zealand and full listing on the NZX Main Board

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