Mike Pavitt, chair of R3's southern region committee and lead corporate restructuring and insolvency partner for Paris Smith LLP, gives BQ an insight into his career so far...
What is it the company does?
R3 is the trade association for the UK’s insolvency, restructuring, advisory, and turnaround professionals. We represent insolvency practitioners, lawyers, turnaround and restructuring experts, students, and others in the profession.
Our members work in firms of all sizes, from the global legal and accountancy firms through to smaller, local practices.
The insolvency and restructuring profession is a vital part of the UK economy. The profession rescues businesses and jobs, creates the confidence to trade and lend by returning money fairly to creditors after insolvencies, investigates fraud, and helps indebted individuals get back to their own two feet.
The UK is an international centre for insolvency and restructuring work and our insolvency and restructuring framework is rated as one of the best in the world by the World Bank. R3 supports the profession in making sure that this remains the case.
R3 is the voice of the insolvency and restructuring profession. We raise awareness of the key issues facing the UK insolvency and restructuring profession and framework among the public, government, policymakers, media, and the wider business community. This work includes highlighting both policy issues for the profession and challenges facing business and personal finances.
R3’s work also includes technical support for members, education, training, and networking opportunities, and dedicated support for smaller practices.
What does your role involve?
My role as regional chair, alongside my other day job as lead corporate restructuring and insolvency partner for Paris Smith LLP solicitors, is to promote, oversee and coordinate R3's activities in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire and to act as the voice of the profession in the region.
I also work closely with a committee based in Southampton, colleagues based in the Thames Valley, with representatives of neighbouring regions, and with R3's central administration. Wherever possible I look to liaise with other business stakeholders, including Chamber and the Institute of Directors, with local politicians and with potential sponsors.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
My legal career began in 1997 when I made the huge step from idealistic European Law graduate to 'fingers to the bone' trainee solicitor at a major regional firm based in Hampshire. I qualified as a solicitor in 1999, specialising in commercial litigation and shortly afterwards my firm merged with a smaller firm which was particularly strong in insolvency work, sufficient to justify the creation of a major insolvency and business recovery team, which was a market leader in the region for many years. Through this team I grew rapidly in insolvency-related experience and was admitted to the Insolvency Lawyers Association and thereafter R3.
In a fiercely competitive environment, I achieved promotion to associate in 2003 and to partner (on the third attempt!) in 2010, all the while working exclusively on insolvency-related assignments and eventually became southern practice head for the firm. Amid serious challenges for industry generally occasioned by the great recession of 2008-2013, the legal profession being no exception, I made my move to my current firm, in late 2011. My role at Paris Smith was to create and develop a cohesive service offering for insolvency legal services and I have enjoyed almost every minute of it.
In 2012 I was appointed to the role of vice-chairman of the southern region committee of R3, in which capacity I served under two successive chairs, and I was confirmed in the post of chair in December 2016. I will serve in this capacity for three years.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
I am not a great one for motivational writing or following self-appointed 'thought leaders', so my views on leadership may not be exactly ‘textbook’. The key quality of an effective leader for me, though, is integrity. I do not see how anyone can hope to lead if they do not command the respect of their peers, for their honesty, their transparency in their decision making and behaving toward others as they would wish others to behave toward them.
Second to integrity, I would place the ability to get the most out of others, to inspire by demonstrating genuine passion for what we do, and to nurture talent.
I try to demonstrate these qualities and to promote those qualities in others for the good of the profession and industry in which I operate, but also within the wider community, through blogging, attendance at events within educational establishments and so on.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
It has long been an ambition of mine to re-establish a Southern Area Conference for R3, and when I became the region’s Chair I made sure putting on a relevant and forward-looking event was top of my agenda, and I am pleased to say that the Southern Conference will take place in Bournemouth in September. I’m currently being kept very busy, along with the dedicated conference sub-committee, sourcing sponsors and speakers, and am confident the event is going to be a success, as there is appetite out there for a conference pulling together the region’s business rescue experts.
More widely, the insolvency and restructuring profession faces its own challenges, as with any other area. To take one obvious example, the future of cross-border UK-EU insolvency work is in doubt as a result of Brexit, and R3 is keen to promote the message that a strong and flexible insolvency and restructuring framework is key to the UK’s continuing economic success. We also as a profession face the collective challenge of companies and individuals not seeking advice from a qualified professional early enough – that is, when cashflow troubles first appear. The earlier a business or an individual talks to an advisor, the more options there are open to them to turn their finances around.
Finally, restructuring and advisory work is taking up more and more of insolvency professionals’ time and focus, and I think it’s vital for the wider business community to sit up and take notice of the skills and experience that insolvency professionals can offer.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
By enjoying it. To my mind, stress is not so much the product of being very busy, so much as being out of control. Being a solicitor is far more stressful than being chair of R3 Southern because typically your clients' expectations and actions are not within your control so you have to be reactive most of the time. Even so, because I genuinely love what I do, I tend not to begrudge anyone for taking my control of my day away from me. Yes, time is always an issue for me, but I deal with the resultant pressures mainly by being open and honest about what I can achieve in the time available.
As to measures to alleviate stress when it does become too much, I achieve a mental detox - every Monday and Wednesday night in rehearsals and twice a year on a big stage - by singing, acting and even sometimes dancing, with Southampton Operatic Society. I also enjoy walking my daughter to school in the morning and starting work a little later, which gets the working day off to a well grounded start.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
At the age of 7 I apparently said I was either going to be a vicar or a commercial advocate. I basically just wanted to help people, and I'm grateful that despite the complete failure of my religious education I have the chance to do that now.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
The one thing I can't abide in the workplace is arrogance. Posturing for the sake of it never solved any problem, never added any value. I guess I just want people to get along. Whilst insolvency and litigation can obviously get quite positional at times, I still always try to maintain a collaborative stance, and am always respectful of colleagues and opponents.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
As the political and economic landscape changes, we all have to constantly re-appraise who we are and what we stand for. The insolvency profession has undergone a period of contraction but now seems to be bouncing back and, to an extent, reclaiming the advisory 'space' where it has faced often unfair competition from unregulated advisors making claims they cannot back up. It is particularly gratifying to see younger professionals coming back to insolvency. If I gaze into my crystal ball, I can foresee perhaps R3 having grown in stature through its regional network, and having helped resolve a number of Brexit-related legislative and other difficulties.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
It seems a little trite to say it out loud, but if you believe in something and you love doing it, "never give up". The best leaders have had a few knockbacks along the way and know how it feels. They can learn from this, develop empathy skills and use these skills to nurture others. My advice for younger professionals who want to succeed is to be wary of instant gratification, and to keep sight of their goals. Anything good is worth sticking around for and the best nest is the one that the most work has gone into.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
That's a tough one. If I'd met my 42 year old self at 23 I probably wouldn't have listened to myself and I was fortunate at that age to have a number of good, older mentors around me, although they were typically ready with advice on what not to do. I'd probably say that I wish I'd had a few more words of encouragement at that age, and perhaps I'd have pushed myself harder then, but who knows what else I might have missed out on if I had. No regrets!