Interview with John Kettle, Partner and Head of International
Could you tell us more about the history of McCullough Robertson Lawyers?
McCullough Robertson was established in Brisbane 90 years ago acting for large Queensland pastoralists and land owners. Since those days, we have retained our position as the recognised leader in agribusiness law along east coast Australia. Our first major expansions took place throughout the 1970s and 1980s with the addition of taxation and commercial practices in the rake of Japanese investments and the growth of the real estate and mining & resources industry in Australia. This also saw a huge growth in corporate entrepreneurial activity which remains a cornerstone feature of our practice (including a prolific ASX clientele). Arising out of this, we further diversified our services to construction, IP and telecoms, including a niche life sciences/healthcare practice.
We have now approximately 210 lawyers, 160 of whom are based in our Brisbane headquarters and 50 in our Sydney office. While we still cling very closely to our agribusiness roots, we have grown to be Queensland’s largest corporate advisory practice and one of Australia’s top independent law firms.
How would you describe the activity of McCullough Robertson Lawyers?
We are a top end mid-market firm. Our clients are Australian and foreign owned corporations, financial institutions, governments, entrepreneurs and high net worth individuals. Our target market is those enterprises with a turnover up to AUD 1 billion including a keen focus on SMEs too. They are seeking our industry expertise in mining, energy and resources, food and agribusiness, real estate, construction, technology, telecommunications, health and life sciences and government. Our mergers and acquisition and IP expertise is also highly sought after. With deep industry knowledge and foresight, combined with technical excellence, our people look beyond abstract legal criteria; in fact, the firm’s approach is as much like a business broker as a lawyer to secure the best outcome. A collaborative style can often trump an adversarial one in commercial negotiations, particularly where sectoral expertise is a prerequisite. Our clients include the likes Peabody, Adani, Telstra, and Clarins. A less obvious but perhaps more telling distinguishing factor is that our Queensland heritage gives us an edge in term of cost effectiveness, allowing us to charge 25% less than our direct competitors based in Sydney or Melbourne, rates we apply across our network without distinction.
Can you describe your personal background and your role within McCullough Robertson Lawyers?
Originally from Dublin in Ireland, I have law degrees from Trinity College Dublin and Oxford University. I am a commercial, corporate and competition lawyer with 20 years’ experience in a large Irish firm, spending most of my career as a partner in Dublin before establishing and running the firm’s London office for 4 years. It is this international experience that prompted McCullough Robertson Lawyers to offer me a position in Brisbane as the globalisation of the legal industry came to Australia. With my wife, Susan, being Australian, it was both a nice professional and family opportunity. I have been a partner and Head of International at McCullough Robertson Lawyers for the last two years. I am the first port of call for any international business and our approach is such that we will travel anywhere to meet with a client. There is no reverse gear in globalisation and we are fully embracing the opportunities it offers with clients from China, Japan, South Korea, Canada, France, US, UK, Ireland, Germany, Norway, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Brazil and Mozambique since I arrived. We are always happy to see more!
How do you envisage the future of your company and how can the French-Australian Chamber help you achieve your objectives?
The prospect of 20 years of continued work in the region has motivated the relocating of our Energy & Industry division to Queensland. The expansion of the CSG industry, which will need pipe networks to move gas and water around, represent a great opportunity for us. Unlike in the UK and the USA, the company’s construction activity is fairly new in Australia but we are looking at leveraging our international savoir-faire locally. There are also a lot of environmental opportunities as the gas company projects move into the operational phase. We, for instance, provide site contamination assessments and deliver solutions. In the mining sector, our current focus is the optimisation of assets.
For more information, please visit McCullough Robertson Lawyers' website: www.mccullough.com.au
Interview conducted on 14 January 2014 by Claire Dupré.
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