Solomon Wifa

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This was a BLD interview with Debo Nwauzu in June 2010. Read more about Solomon Wifa in the Directory

Our Lawyer of the Month is Solomon Wifa, who made legal history on 22 February 2010 when, aged 37, he became the youngest-ever Managing Partner of O’Melveny & Myers, one of the world’s top 30 law firms. He is also one of the youngest ever Managing Partners in the City of London of a firm of such global size.

Solomon was born in Nigeria and came to the UK at the age of 17. He graduated from the University of Greenwich, London, in 1994 and completed his Legal Practice Course at the College of Law, Guildford, in 1997. Solomon trained at King and Wood Mallesons (formerly SJ Berwin), qualifying in 1999 and remained at the firm, becoming a Senior Associate on private equity and investment funds and transactions.

He joined O’Melveny & Myers as part of a team to re-launch the firm’s practice in the UK and his focus was on emerging markets - China, sub-Saharan Africa, India, Turkey and Central and Eastern Europe, building the firm’s private equity practice in the UK virtually from scratch. He is a member of the Investment Funds and Securitisation Practice and became a partner in February 2006 - exactly four years later becoming its UK Managing Partner.

Some of O’Melveny & Myers clients are world leading companies, including Goldman Sachs, Apollo Management and Actis. Solomon is ranked by Chambers and Partners UK 2010 in the Investment Funds: Private Equity section. The same publication notes that he “has impressive expertise in fund formation in the emerging economies of Africa, China and India”. 

He has extensive experience in the private equity sector and has acted on a number of international and domestic private equity transactions. He has also advised on a number of buy-out, venture and development capital investments. 

His clients and transactions have included Coller Capital, one of the biggest and most established investors in second-hand private equity assets in Europe, Portland Capital and Sovereign Wealth Fund advising the latter on a $1bn joint venture investment fund with an affiliate of Barclays Capital, the investment banking division of Barclays Bank. He has also advised the specialist global emerging markets private equity firm Actis Capital on over $3bn fundraising for investments in India, China, Africa and Latin America.

In April 2010 he was ranked in the individual lawyers at the top 50 global law firms named by the Practical Law Company’s PLS Which Lawyer? and in 2009 he was a featured speaker at a seminar in New York, entitled “Private Equity Investments in Africa: Opportunity in the Face of a Global Financial Crisis”, co-presented by the New York City Bar’s Committee on African Affairs and the American Bar Association’s Section of International Law's Africa Committee.

Solomon’s life within and outside law can sometimes be very exciting indeed as he was once responsible for a full-blown security alert at a diplomatic embassy in central London.

His pro bono work includes advising on death row cases. One of the cases was representing an inmate in Jamaica.  All rights of appeal at the UK Privy Council had been exhausted (at that time it was the highest court of appeal for a number of Caribbean Islands, including Jamaica). A few days after losing the appeal before the Privy Council, the Jamaican authorities set a date to execute the accused. Two days before the execution date, whilst awaiting the outcome of a petition to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Solomon was involved in a frantic attempt to find a local counsel to act on a pro bono basis applying for a stay of execution. In a last ditch effort, the team wrote to the Governor General of Jamaica appealing for a stay of execution. This was granted, but they found out about it only on the actual day of the execution, thankfully before it took place.

His other pro bono work is with the Impetus Trust, an organisation set up by a number of individuals in the UK private equity industry, who invest in and support a number of charities on a venture philanthropy basis.

Solomon was a contributor to A Guide to Private Equity Fund of Funds Managers, published by Private Equity International.

Solomon is married and has a son and a daughter.

Below is our interview with Solomon.

BLD: What was your first job?
SW: Working in a sausage factory somewhere in Hackney, London, packing sausages. I took work home with me - as I usually had sausages for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

BLD: Why did you choose a legal career?
SW: Like everyone else, I had influences all around me. Of the options I had, Law and business were the options that were most appealing to me. I would not do Law if it did not involve business- for me, they are intertwined.

BLD: If you were to choose another role/profession other than Law, what would it be and why?
SW: A farmer in Africa because I partly grew up around a farm.

BLD: What was the best career advice you were given?
SW: No specific advice. I have generally benefited from people who have encouraged me to believe in my own capabilities.

BLD: What was the worst career advice you were given?
SW: I was once told that if I did well enough I could become the Head Concierge of one of London prestigious hotels. As I was working as a porter at the time, the advice was not bad in that context, but I had other ideas!

BLD: What career advice would you give to others?
SW: Enjoy what you do and do what stimulates you the most.

BLD: Who is the person you most admire (dead or alive) and why?
SW: Nelson Mandela, for his courage and foresight. After the fall of Apartheid, he could have said: “Let’s give the whites some pay back for the wrongs of the past, e.g. take the white farms etc.” He did not do that, and that takes courage and real foresight.

BLD: What are you most passionate/happiest about?
SW: That would have to be my children.

BLD: What are your dislikes?
SW: Apathy and procrastination. If something is bugging you, deal with it and don’t whine. I am a subscriber to Nike’s slogan: “Just do it!”

BLD: What was your worst moment as a lawyer?
SW: It would have to be when I received word, from my client’s family in Jamaica, that he had been moved from his cell to the execution chamber. It was a question of life or death and there was a huge sense of responsibility.

BLD: Tell us about your professional high point(s).
SW: Numerous really low key transactions were we have been instrumental in helping clients set up their businesses or achieve their goals.

BLD: What was the most famous/interesting case(s) you have handled to date?
SW: Again, it has to be the death row cases I have done.

BLD: Any professional regrets?
SW: None. Regret is a wasted emotion as life is too short. If you can’t change it, learn to live with it.

BLD: If you could rule the world for a day what would you change/do?
SW: If I could do anything, it would be to remove poverty.