Skadden Arps partner Ann Beth Stebbins discusses her high-end M&A practice and some of her most memorable work.
Name: Ann Beth Stebbins
Practice Areas: Mergers and Acquisitions, Corporate, and Private Equity
Location: New York
Law School: J.D., Georgetown University Law Center, 1994
Undergraduate: B.A., Georgetown University, 1986
Quotable, on advice to first year lawyers: “You should always try to understand where your piece fits in the puzzle. Be intellectually curious. A genuine interest in, and enthusiasm for, the case or transaction you are working on will lead to greater job satisfaction and, most importantly, satisfied clients.”
Lawdragon: What drew you to your practice?
Ann Beth Stebbins: I was drawn to M&A as a young lawyer because I have always been interested in the business world. I started my career as a banker and saw early on the influence that lawyers have in assisting boards and management in defining and executing their business strategies. In addition to having spent five years as a banker, I have my MBA and believe this gives me a great advantage in understanding the objectives my clients are seeking to achieve in each transaction.
LD: Is there a case/deal/client in your career that stands out as a “favorite” or one that is particularly memorable?
AS: One of my favorite clients was the Gucci Group, which is now part of Kering. I began representing Gucci when LVMH, its biggest competitor, attempted to gain control of the company. Kering (then PPR) invested $3 billion in Gucci, and we negotiated a settlement and repurchase of the stake that LVMH had acquired in Gucci. We also represented Gucci in its acquisition of numerous brands, including Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen and Balenciaga, resulting in its transformation into a multibrand luxury company. I had the rare opportunity of working on transactions in an industry that I was passionate about, meeting many of my fashion idols and learning about the industry from the inside.
LD: What are some of the challenges you or your clients face?
AS: Although all of the elements for robust M&A activity appear to be present (attractive financing terms, historically high levels of liquidity and improving U.S. economic activity), the level of M&A activity in recent years has been relatively modest. The announcement of several large transactions in the first quarter of 2014 is an encouraging sign that confidence has returned in board rooms and the deal-making community, generally. However, my private equity clients continue to struggle to find quality assets at attractive prices.
LD: Are you involved in any pro bono or community activities? Tell us what you find meaningful about them.
AS: I am very involved in my alma mater, Georgetown Law Center, where I chair the Law Alumni Board. The Law Alumni Board is active in outreach to the alumni community, particularly in the areas of admissions and careers. With the shrinking pool of applicants to law school it is imperative that alumni are involved in recruiting and supporting students. It also is critical that alumni help guide students on their career paths by opening doors and providing experience that is essential to succeeding in today’s challenging legal climate. We also have been actively engaged in discussions with the faculty, administration and students about the law school curriculum and what modifications need to be made to traditional legal education so that our students are “practice-ready” when they graduate. I am grateful for the legal education I received at Georgetown and am committed to giving back in any way that I can so that students have the same opportunities that were available to me.
LD: Why did you pursue a career in the law?
AS: After starting my career in finance in the late 1980s, I realized that I wanted to be a problem solver, and that law school was the best way for me to gain those skills. I initially planned to return to my banking career armed with a legal education. However, my summer associate experience gave me exposure to the M&A practice at Skadden, and I immediately realized that M&A was a perfect fit for a young lawyer with a finance background and a keen interest in business. My instincts were spot-on, and I have never regretted my career choice. I am glad that I worked for a few years in finance before starting law school, as the additional maturity and experience made me more focused and enabled me to better understand my clients’ businesses and objectives.
LD: What advice do you have for law students and lawyers who are just beginning their careers?
AS: My advice is to try to understand the big picture. Often young lawyers are given assignments that represent a small piece in a much larger puzzle. You should always try to understand where your piece fits in the puzzle. Be intellectually curious. A genuine interest in, and enthusiasm for, the case or transaction you are working on will lead to greater job satisfaction and, most importantly, satisfied clients.
LD: Is there anything in particular that happened early in your career that you consider key to your success?
AS: As a second-year lawyer, I was asked to relocate to Hong Kong for a month to help on an M&A transaction in Malaysia. I had never planned on doing cross-border M&A, but my one month in Hong Kong turned into nearly a year-long stint. I so enjoyed my time abroad that I asked to be considered for a more permanent international assignment. Shortly thereafter, I was asked to move to London and spent eight years doing M&A in a booming European environment. The experience was invaluable, and never anything that was part of my personal career plan. I was very fortunate to be given such unique opportunities, and those experiences shaped my career and my practice.
LD: What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?
AS: I am the ultimate Jersey Girl. I have been to more than 150 Bruce Springsteen concerts, and I hope to make it to 150 more. I spend weekends at the Jersey Shore and have been actively involved in our community’s efforts to “Restore the Shore” after Hurricane Sandy.