Kem Ihenacho

This was a BLD interview with Debo Nwauzu in August 2010. Read more about Kem Ihenacho in the Directory.

Our Lawyer of the Month is Kem Ihenacho, a partner at Magic Circle law firm Clifford Chance.

Kem was born in Birmingham in 1972 and grew up in Nigeria until he was 11 years old when his family came back to the UK.  He described the return to England as “cold!” He read Law at Cardiff University, graduating in 1995, and completed his Legal Practice Course at Cardiff Law School in 1996. He trained at the Cardiff and London offices of Morgan Bruce (now Morgan Cole) including a stint on secondment at ICI Paints and a short secondment following qualification with the technology focussed US firm Brobeck Hale & Dorr. He qualified as a solicitor in 1998 and joined Clifford Chance’s Corporate Department as an associate the following year in 1999. Kem was elected as a partner in 2007.  

Kem works in the corporate practice at Clifford Chance, advising private equity and venture capital investors, management and companies on Mergers and Acquisitions, fund-raisings and disposals on domestic and international transactions. He is also a member of the firm’s Africa Group, with a particular focus on West Africa.

Some of Kem’s well-known transactions have included acting for private equity house Candover on its acquisition of a minority stake in Italian-headquartered Technogym, the leading producer of fitness equipment.

He is on the advisory board of Rare Recruitment and in  April 2010, Kem became one of Clifford Chance’s nine-partner committee to oversee the firm’s recruitment. 

Kem is a regular speaker at conferences and seminars on private equity and investment in Africa. He recently spoke at the Private Equity International – PE in Africa forum in London in June of this year.

Kem is married with two sons and lives in North London.

Below is our interview with Kem.

BLD: What was your first job?
KI: I was a labourer for a building contractor during the summer holidays. Having played a lot of rugby and other sports I thought I was reasonably fit/physically strong but had to quickly reassess those thoughts after my first couple of hours on site!

BLD: Why did you choose a legal career?
KI: I grew up in Nigeria in an environment where if you were fortunate enough to go on to university and you had good enough grades, there was an expectation that you would study medicine or law or architecture - a vocational degree.  That definitely had an influence on me. I also had a number of lawyers in the family and from speaking to them, and having done some work experience, it seemed like an interesting, rewarding and demanding career. I think I made the right choice, but looking back I really feel that I could have done with better career guidance to help me understand what opportunities were available. That's why now it’s a real pleasure to get involved with initiatives that aim to give young people a better understanding of what opportunities are out there for them.

BLD: If you were to choose another role/profession other than law, what would it be and why?
KI: I wanted to be a professional rugby player but a combination of injuries and a talent deficit got in the way!

BLD: What was the best career advice you were given?
KI:  As a trainee on my second day of my training contract, on asking to borrow a partner's car to attend a county court hearing I was told: "Here are the key's son, but if the car gets bumped, don't bother coming back...." I've never driven so carefully in my life! On a serious note, I think the most helpful advice I've been given is to always put yourself in the client's shoes when delivering advice.

BLD: What was the worst career advice you were given?
KI: I can't think of any particularly bad career advice. Clearly people have different views but it’s always interesting to hear them.

BLD: What career advice would you give to others?
KI: Get as much information from as many people as you can so that you can make informed decisions about where you want to study, what you want to study, what you want to do. And don't be afraid to change your mind if you feel like you've made the wrong decision! It’s never too late.

BLD: Who is the person you most admire (dead or alive) and why?
KI: My father, born into a rural village in the 1930s in Eastern Nigeria who – with great family support – got himself to university and went on to become an eminent cardiologist. Truly inspirational.

BLD: What are you most passionate/happiest about?
KI: My two young sons.

BLD: What are your dislikes?
KI: Working on a Friday night!

BLD: What was your worst moment as a lawyer?
KI: My first mistake on the job as a trainee, which I discovered late one night. Looking back it was quite a trivial mistake but at the time it felt like the sky was caving in! I discussed it with the partner the next morning who was very supportive and together we worked out a solution.  

BLD: Tell us about your professional high point(s).
KI: Being made a partner.

BLD: What was the most famous/interesting case(s) you have handled to date?
KI: Acting for the private equity house Candover on the acquisition of a stake in Technogym. 

BLD: Any professional regrets?
KI: Not yet!

BLD: If you could rule the world for a day what would you change/do?
KI: I would award Ghana a penalty goal for the blatant volleyball antics of the Uruguayan team in the quarter final of the World Cup.