Alumni newsletter - A whole new world

In our latest newsletter we talk to recently retired partner, Mark Bennett, about what he has been doing since leaving the firm and his plans for the future.

The prospect of retirement from the firm was something Mark admits was a big wrench. "Having spent my entire career at Slaughter and May, I have a huge amount of affection for the firm and the people there, so I felt some trepidation at the idea of cutting loose from the mother ship. However, it's turned out to be a fantastically interesting period."

Broadening horizons

In addition to moving house, Mark and his wife rekindled their mutual love of travelling – taking in the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, where they enjoyed, among other things, some whale-watching, before heading to Kwazulu Natal in South Africa.

"As a child growing up in the '60s and '70s, I developed an interest in the anglo - zulu wars, which had been the subject of several popular films at the time," he explains. "Having the time to explore these battlefields turned out to be an amazing and very moving experience. I also have a real interest in conservation projects and plan to spend a lot more of my time seeing these in action throughout the world."

His next trip will take place in September, with Mark and his wife journeying with their children to see the great apes in Uganda before visiting another conservation project.

There's also a plan to fish more of the great rivers with his eldest son as well as developing a fledgling career as a sheep farmer in Wales.

In the midst of all this, he is already three months into a new job that sprang from his time with
the firm.

"Before I retired I was introduced by one of my fellow partners, Richard Clark, to The Salvation Army – a long-standing client of the firm and a large international charity," he explains. “This initially began by advising them on some financial services work – restructuring a bank that they own - but ultimately developed into joining them in April in a more general adviser and legal counsel role. Part of this role also involves recruiting a small legal team at their International Headquarters building in the City. While the role is full-time at present, I hope to move down to part-time at some point.” Mark adds “the work that The Salvation Army does both here in the UK and internationally where they operate in 130 countries, is incredible and it’s a real privilege to work with such a dedicated and committed group of people. Because of The Salvation Army’s geographical spread, the work has been very varied and has certainly taken me out of my comfort zone on a number of occasions”.

Continuing interests

The decision to combine another role with a busy retirement may seem surprising, but for Mark, it is a natural progression from his time at the firm.

"One of the great privileges of being at Slaughter and May was the opportunity to develop other associated interests alongside your practice,"
he says. "As a result, I became involved in the firm’s charity and pro bono work - which included chairing the firm’s Corporate Responsibility Committee for a while - acting as the firm’s Professional Indemnity Partner and helping establish the firm’s alumni programme alongside fellow partner Gareth Miles. These added a lot of additional colour to my day job."

During his time at Slaughter and May, Mark worked on a number of large transactions – one of which stands out for him was “Project Tree” - which involved the disposal of Santander's insurance businesses around the world.

"That was a big and pressurised job to do in a ridiculously short period of time," he recalls.
"It involved a very large team working in really challenging conditions in basement rooms at Bunhill Row in order to produce the huge number of documents needed for the deal. It was an immensely impressive team effort by lots of people who hardly ever went home – and for me that just illustrates the extra mile that lawyers and others at the firm routinely go, both physically and intellectually."

While it certainly counts as one standout moment, Mark says there have also been many amusing highlights including a case of mistaken identity which he will remember for a very long time.

"I was once invited to a grand centenary dinner of an international client. Much to my initial surprise and pleasure, I was placed between the Chairman and the CEO – neither of whom I had met before and where English was a second language for them. As soon as the dinner got going, they started quizzing me about macroeconomic issues and my European growth and acquisition strategy. I realised with mounting horror that I had been mistaken for a very different Mr. Bennett. For reasons I still find difficult to explain, I tried to pull the whole thing off by simply changing the subject every time they asked me anything remotely related to business to their increasing bemusement. This was a strategy obviously doomed to failure, and sometime later, while drenched in sweat with embarrassment and tension, I was finally forced to admit there may have been a mistake in the seating plan. It would be wrong to say they saw the funny side of things and we spent the rest of the very long dinner in complete silence. It was the source of much hilarity at the office, but I can tell you the memory of it still gives me nightmares."

So how would he like to be remembered?

"I guess as someone who was just about able to hold his own with a group of partners who in my opinion are some of the most talented lawyers in the country, while also being able to develop and maintain a reasonable practice for a goodly period. That's tough these days, so I'd say that's a pretty good epitaph on leaving."