HOGAN LOVELLS’ ANDREW SKIPPER

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Having headed up the firm’s global corporate practice for over 10 years, Andrew now leads Hogan Lovells Africa Practice, overseeing one of the most dynamic and entrepreneurial groups within the firm.  With his roots in commercial law, Andrew has and continues to act for a wide range of businesses, from sports to consumer, agribusiness and pharmaceuticals.  Most recently, this has involved him advising on complicated and sophisticated contracts across various countries in Africa, in addition to assisting multinational corporates all over the world.

As a partner in the corporate commercial practice, Andrew is renowned for his work and considered by clients as a ‘star…very calming influence…has the ability to crack through difficult negotiations’ in the Legal 500. Clients often comment on how much they enjoy working with him, not only because of his excellent legal skills covering joint venture agreements, outsourcing, and supply and distribution arrangements, but also because of his problem solving approach and down to earth manner.

The combination of Andrew’s professional career, work in Africa and appreciation of the arts has created a deep admiration and respect for African art and culture, across various artistic forms, which has led to his current position on the National Advisory Board of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, in addition to his previous role as a trustee of the Royal National Theatre Foundation.

 

Andrew spoke to SAprofessionals.com about the Africa Continental Free Trade Area and his career at Hogan Lovells.

 

ACFTA is potentially huge for Africa, how can it become a practical success rather than just a good theoretic idea?

Put simply the Treaty seeks, on a grand scale, to unite 1.2 billion people, around 54 nations and a gross domestic product of more than US$ 3.4 trillion under a single tariff free continental market. Enacted only in 2018, it has been signed by 53 African States including most recently Nigeria. It is already a practical and extraordinary achievement to bring leaders’ thinking into alignment.

The Treaty is of course the first, albeit very significant, step on a long road to creating a continental free trade area. As such, it creates a governance framework for its institutions and rules, with an overarching agreement setting out an institutional structure, supplemented by three trade protocols on goods, services and dispute settlement.

And there is no doubt that it is critical, at a time when intra-African trade amounts to only 16% of Continental GDP, as compared with 67% in Europe, when the lack of scale of most independent countries on the continent inhibits growth (and especially development of in-country industrial bases), when it is easier to get some ingredients from China than the next door neighbour, and it is said to be easier to get around the continent with a US passport than a Malian one.  The AfCFTA has lofty ambitions to deal with these issues, especially to eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers and increase intra Africa trade to 50% in short order, which will of course be helped by the effective legitimisation of much of the grey -market. It is important to stress the commitment of key players to its success and practical steps are already being taken, for example through –African Export Import Bank funding, to smooth the issues of loss of tariff income for example.

So whilst much needs to be done to perfect the AfCFTA, not least in agreeing the thorny issue of trade protections, the overriding view remains that it is a critical initiative for a continent which needs to move forward with industrialisation and continental trade. And with the rest of the world looking to invest in and influence – Africa, the sooner a concerted approach can be taken to take advantage of the opportunities, the better. The impact could be crucial and game-changing with the will to deliver it.

What is your view of China’s activities within Africa and the role that the country is playing in shaping Africa’s future?

Everyone wants a piece of Africa. This is not just a China issue. I’ve written over the years about the new Scramble for Africa (courtesy of my good friend Alex Vines of Chatham House). As I say, not just China; but European countries, as shown by the unprecedented recent approaches to the continent including Theresa May’s three-country tour in 2018; Angela Merkel, German Chancellor announcing 1bn EUR into SME’s; and pres. Emmanuel Macron from France taking a trip to The Shrine in Lagos, Nigeria. They are all keen to invest and develop closer links with Africa. China of course has its Belt and Road Policy materially targeting the continent and Japan is holding TICAD – Tokyo International Conference of Africa’s Development – in Yokohama later this year. The US too, through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), is seeking to significantly increased investment in Africa on new and more flexible terms. India and Turkey are also looking hard. The UK will hold its own Africa Summit early in 2020, and has clearly stated ambitions to be the biggest investor amongst the G7 in Africa, through CDC and others, and other countries are following suit.

And whilst the motivation for much of this “impact” investment by foreign powers is at its mildest geopolitical, in an uncertain world Africa should be able to take advantage of this desire to invest, by acting decisively and strategically. The impact of a strong and coordinated negotiating stance with those wishing to invest could again be material.

How does ACFTA compare to other similar initiatives across the world? What advantages and disadvantages does the initiative have in comparison?

In a year of continuing Brexit, trade wars and a world apparently insistent on putting up barriers, with the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement, a beacon has been lit that just may show the way to addressing some of the perennial roadblocks to trade in Africa. Indeed the parallel developments in EU and Africa of regional trade blocs and free trade areas make for an interesting and potentially ironic study as Africa seeks to open its markets to intracontinental trade after years of barriers, while Europe, the US, China and Russia, could be seen to be doing the opposite. Whilst much remains to be done the impact of AfCFTA is certainly potentially and theoretically huge, practically and emotionally. In comparison with other current issues it is almost in a league of its own.

Another advantage is that due to the geopolitical happenings elsewhere in the world, this trade agreement is being progressed relatively under the radar. This is an opportunity for African leaders to get on with it and hopefully push things through without too much international interference.

What does it mean to you that your colleagues have entrusted you with the position of Head of Africa practice?

I have been with Hogan Lovells for 34 years, from the start of my career. I have built practices and been in a range of senior positions including leading the global Corporate Practice for 10 years, during which time I was on the firm’s global management committee. The role of head of the Africa Practice is one I am proud to have been asked to do as it confirms the firm’s desire to have the continent as a key part of its mainstream global practice. I have a passion for Africa and its culture and business and am committed to driving the business forward on the basis of 4 key pillars; that we operate in Africa, we invest in it, we seek to understand it and that we always show respect to the continent.

What would you like to have achieved by the time you leave the company?

In my current role I want to see Hogan Lovells consolidating and enhancing its position as a leading player in the African legal market, recognised for its commitment to and passion for the continent as well as the excellence of the work we do there.

How would you describe your management and leadership styles?

I seek to set out clear goals and have the confidence and trust to empower my team to execute them with enthusiasm.  It is hard work so it is important that we enjoy ourselves in delivering our objectives. What is great is that we have a small, but dedicated and diverse team, most of whom are African. There is real respect for the contributions of each team member, and I strongly feel that because of this, we are successful in what we do.

What makes you tick or keeps you awake at night with respect to your position?

I am an enthusiast and want things done correctly and quickly. This is not always possible with 54 countries in my remit, and sometimes the complexity can be a challenge. But in my current role, it is important to me to engage more broadly and actively with the continent than might be the case with other areas.  So I am deeply involved in the promotion of African Art through organisations such as the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, where I am the Co-Vice Chair of the Advisory Board. I am also on the Board of 1-54, a great art fair devoted to the continent which takes place in October at Somerset House in London. As a firm, we have a range of initiatives designed to enhance our connections with the continent, particularly through art and culture.

How do you take part in mentoring others?

I have always had great teams and I’m delighted that many have gone on to partnership, senior positions in-house, or in the case of those in my team who are not lawyers, great positions in business.  I believe that businesses can only thrive when their people and especially their leaders, work with a generosity of spirit combined with a determination to get things done, and that this applies especially in supporting your team.

If you had to relate a couple of experiences, what would be the highs and what would be the lows of your working career?

I managed a global practice during the financial crisis, which was hard and involved a succession of difficult decisions with personal consequences. The moment these cease to become painful is the time to move on. They never did. On the other hand I have always had the pleasure to work with great teams and great friends; which is why after 34 years I am still here.

 

Are there any accolades that you have received recently or your organisation during your leadership?

I am fortunate to have had a very successful career, being relatively young when I was asked to lead a global practice and to have a position in senior management. Now, I am continually asked to be on boards and become part of some very interesting and progressive organisations.  I remain an enthusiast, and love the opportunities to expand my interests where I can use my experience to support diverse organisations. To be asked is an honour and I am always humbled.

In you view, how has the Africa Practice fared in terms of achieving its business growth objectives?

I am very proud of what we have achieved to date. We have surpassed most of our goals and continue to see steady year on year growth which exceeds the firm’s average. Hogan Lovells is now much better known across the continent and as a result, we are winning new clients and more work. There is still a great deal more to be done, but that’s what makes it most interesting.

 

In your view, through what means does the organisation ensure that the firm maintains high level of ethics and integrity?

As head of the Africa Practice I have a vested interest in ensuring that as a firm, we act with integrity and respect when working with clients and local law firms. This is something I, and the firm, take very seriously so I make a point where I can to have personal relationships with managing partners of the firms and be kept abreast of our work and client relationships. This means clients and law firms can be honest with me and my team about their experience (and vice versa) and I can in turn take the right steps .

Kindly highlight some recent contributions by you and your firm to the community and to the relevant professions your professionals are a part of & How do you and your firm ensure that professionalism and good customer service are upheld?

It is a key pillar of our practice that we respect and invest in Africa, and we are proud of the work we do to build capacity across the continent. I and we at Hogan Lovells, are 100% committed to supporting a well-developed programme for capacity building on the continent. We believe this is a key area where we can deliver impact. And we do. We run a Go Far Together Programme supporting lawyers and law firms across the continent. Each year we host our GFT Symposium, which is an opportunity for us to connect with Senior Partners from our relationship firms for a series of round-table discussions on issues around the business of law. This year we had 21 partners from 21 different firms covering 16 African countries. Since we started the GFT programme in 2017 we have provided training and development to over 60 individual lawyers from 23 African countries.  This is delivered in partnership and in a spirit of mutuality. The benefit is obvious and 2 way, and the impact is the same. It helps us deliver service to our clients with a trusted group of colleagues, and supports local firms in developing their own businesses on the ground in Africa.

We are also delighted to be able to work, for the third consecutive year, on the Special Report on Investing in Africa, in collaboration with African Law and Business. This year’s report provides an overview of the legal and regulatory frameworks in 30 African countries, to help businesses make informed decisions and assess where to invest on the continent.

The report also includes four Sector Overviews that take an in-depth look at some key areas, this year focusing on finance, M&A, power solutions, and mobile money. There are also four Special Features which provide an added insight into the areas of mining, international arbitration, diversification, and DFI investment in infrastructure.

It is always a pleasure for us to work with local African law firms in creating this report, which enables us to continue to build on our strong local relationships and provides a platform for them to share their expertise with a global audience. This reinforces our commitment to capacity building and creating our own personal impact on the continent; an area of genuine strength, which we believe adds real value.

 

Kindly highlight some recent contributions by you and your firm to the community and to the relevant professions your professionals are a part of.

As previously mentioned, we have a capacity building programme, GFT, through which we work with local law firms and the broader legal fraternity in Africa, to provide support where it is needed most. What we are quickly learning is that there is a high demand for soft-skills and business training and therefore this is an area we continue to focus on. In addition, our pro-bono team continues to advise a range of social enterprises focused on providing African solutions to African problems, in addition to the award winning work we continue to do with the Barefoot College.

 

How do you and your firm ensure that professionalism and good customer service are upheld?

We are proud of our reputation as a leading global law firm which provides excellent service. In Africa we support this by working with our network of local independent law firms with whom we have strong, mutual and trusting relationships.

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