In our 60 second interview series, Citywealth speaks to Saleem Sheikh, senior partner at GSC Solicitors, about morphing from lawyer to trusted advisor, being a part of clients’ success stories and the importance of family.
Tell me about your role.
I am a Senior Partner at GSC Solicitors LLP, a City-based law firm. I trained with the firm straight after having graduated from the LSE in 1980 and undertook my legal practice course at the College of Law. Within 5 years of qualifying as a lawyer, I became a partner and was appointed Senior Partner in 2001. Apart from heading up the firm, I advise UHN private individuals and corporate clients both in the UK and abroad. I specialise in international and offshore structuring, arbitration and dispute resolution. I advise clients whose business and personal interests are international in nature. This brings a lot of excitement and diversity to my role as the legal issues for HNW families are growing hugely as they are more concerned about succession planning for children coming into the business. My job is fantastically varied as there is no single type of client, legal situation or commercial aspiration that clients have.
What does a typical day look like for you?
My day starts with family breakfast with my wife, Ferial, and my youngest daughter, Alia. The other two, my eldest son Saqib and daughter Sana now have their separate homes having started their married lives. I am a news addict; starting my morning with BBC Breakfast or Radio 4 and reading the newspapers. I usually have between 6 to 8 meetings a day, some internal, some with a client, or conference calls with international clients. My office hours vary too but evenings are occupied with networking events or conferences where sometimes I am invited as a speaker. These days the legal profession requires being creative and proactive in marketing which often involves direct contact especially with prospective clients; although in the private client industry the majority of people come to us through personal recommendation.
Tell us about interesting client instructions.
One of my recent cases that was quite interesting was advising a large family business that is structured abroad. We advised on restructuring the family business to reduce costs and to streamline the business. It also required advice on double tax treaties and a strategy for putting in place suitable and cost-effective structures for the family.
As this involved multi-generational interests, it was challenging to balance the requirements of the family and to fit a structure that suited all of their objectives.
What challenges do your clients face and how are you helping your clients to overcome them?
With 65 per cent of GSC’s business comprising of high-net-worth individuals, most of our clients are in need of specific and sophisticated advice. This is because in the past 10 years businesses have evolved, wealth has grown and the asset base has become more diverse. Now, people are much savvier about things being documented. If in the olden times an ‘honest handshake’ would seal the deal, these days people try to get the right advice and to get things properly documented. For businesses I encourage having shareholders’ agreements in place. At the same time, for married couples it is crucial to have a prenuptial agreement signed before marriage. I have seen a considerable increase in the number of prenups now that one in three people are getting divorced. So, there is an increased awareness around legal documentation. Nowadays it’s also about wealth preservation. Sometimes we deal with a situation whereby the second or third generation have rights over the money for education or property, but they don’t actually have access to the capital. So we advise on structuring and planning of wealth and assets.
What is your proudest professional achievement?
Over time, my role has morphed from that of a lawyer to becoming a trusted advisor. Having worked with some clients for as long as over 30 years, I am now seen as part of the family. They share things openly and honestly with me, as well as their fears and concerns, their secrets and aspirations. I value that sort of trust most of all. It makes you feel that you delivered a good job and helped someone with the best possible advice and direction. It’s also an indescribable pleasure to see how well your clients do, but most of all being a part of their successful journeys – this is priceless to me and something that I have worked hard on over the years. A real pleasure as well is having my daughter, Sana, by my side, making her lawyer’s path at GSC. She also works with our private client base and is now widely involved in commercial litigation and dispute resolution matters with international clients.
What do you consider to be the most important attributes for a leader?
First and foremost, it’s about being strong, approachable and inspirational while providing a clear vision and direction to your team. Running a business and especially a successful law firm in the City is not that easy. It’s a 24-hour job and takes a lot of dedication. However, the most crucial part is dedication to your people. It’s the team that delivers the service that GSC is proud of and is acknowledged for, whether it’s in high rankings in the Legal 500, or awards like ‘Law firm of the year’ or Magic Circle’s ‘Entrepreneurial individual of the year’. People are the main asset so my team feel like they can always come and talk to me, about anything, work or personal life. I am very easy to approach and I enjoy being a part of people’s lives. In a bigger picture, I am quite strategic and it’s a part of my job to inspire people for long-term success and have a clear vision how to achieve one.
Who do you most admire and why?
That would be my Father. His name was Manzoor-ul-Haq Sheikh. He was the strongest person I have ever known. Originally from Kenya, he was always an example of strength, integrity and commitment to me and my siblings. He was well educated and worked in a professional capacity all his life, starting from the role of a senior civil servant for the British government in Nairobi. He brought us to the UK when I was just 8 years old having left our idyllic lifestyle in Africa. He was never afraid of changes or challenges in life and taught us all to be hardworking, committed and to enjoy what we do. These qualities have been translated to my own parenthood and I am hoping that my children too will continue passing this strength, support and love to their own children.
Where was the last place you travelled to for work or pleasure?
My most recent trip was to Pakistan. I had my wife, Saqib and Alia joining me on that trip and we all went hiking and exploring the beautiful nature of Pakistan. It was another amazing memory that we created as a family. Otherwise, my ‘usual’ place to go for a peaceful holiday is Mustique, a small island in the Grenadines. Everybody likes a bit of sunshine, great food and a beautiful scenery; but if on top of this you get privacy and interesting people to meet, it’s a winner. We love the great history of the island too.
If you weren’t in the wealth management industry, what else might you be doing?
I have a very straight answer to that question – a commercial airline pilot! This had been a dream of mine ever since I was in my teens. However, due to the bereavement of my Uncle, who was a pilot and had died in a plane crash, my Father advised me against choosing this as a profession. So I eventually chose my second love, which was law. I had some lawyers in the family; historically, uncles. So, I had seen lawyers in the family. One of my uncles was an eminent businessman who would always say how important it was to have a lawyer as part of your team. Second thing is that I liked the concept of a courtroom. I used to watch a programme called, Perry Mason. I was quite good at public speaking, quite argumentative, some of my siblings would say. And I also like dealing with people and I thought I was always the sort of guy who would like helping people out and I was reasonably good at it.
How do you relax after a long day?
Art, music and cars. Catching up with my family. With Saqib and Sana each having their own homes now, it is great paying them a visit and chatting over a nice meal. I enjoy watching a good Indian movie too as it takes me back to my childhood memories.