Posted on Wednesday 20 January 2010 by Ulster Business

Ian Coulter

Ian Coulter Tughans

Leaders in Business - As managing partner of one of Northern Ireland’s largest law firms, Ian Coulter is definitely one of the main leaders in the local legal field. Symon Ross finds out what drives the company’s youngest ever managing partner and how he views the local economy in the coming months.

Tughans’ managing partner says that while he is more positive going into 2010 after what was a difficult year for most Northern Ireland businesses, there are still a lot of challenges ahead. Founded in 1896, Tughans now has around 100 staff making it one of the largest commercial law firms in Belfast. Coulter says its aim is to be strong in all the core areas - litigation, corporate, banking and restructuring, employment and property. The firm also retains an office in Derry, the only large Belfast law firm to do so. While Tughans had to make some staff cuts during the recent downturn, Coulter says that they are more optimistic about the year ahead. “We are much more positive than we were six months ago, but still cautious. The next year and the year after will be very tough for businesses but the ones who are properly placed will be able to take their opportunities.” Ballyclare-born Coulter studied in England and worked on large merger and acquisition deals for London City law firm Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw at the start of his career. However, he always wanted to return to Northern Ireland and got that opportunity twelve years ago when he joined Tughans, helping to establish its corporate division with John-George Willis. With particular expertise in M&A, management buy-outs and buy-ins, private equity and venture capital funding, it is perhaps no surprise that he acts as company secretary for several of the firm’s technology clients and also for Momentum, The Northern Ireland ICT Federation. Tughans has worked on numerous financing deals for Ulster-based technology companies and Coulter views it as a sector with immense potential, particularly as many of the big international players have ridden out the recession with healthy cash balances with which to make acquisitions. “It is a tremendous area and I think Northern Ireland can be very proud of some of the technology companies that have been developed here. It’s certainly an area Northern Ireland should continue to focus on; it’s an area where we can compete globally,” he says. Coulter was made managing partner in April 2009 – at 38 the company’s youngest ever. He notes that in a law firm the role is different to the MD post in a regular business because the firm’s partners are all stakeholders in the business. “You need to have a collegiate approach,” he says. “The key thing is making sure that everyone’s view is heard and to get a balanced view at the end of it. My role is to make sure the ideas are put on the table, kicked around and adapted, and after the meeting that they get actioned.” He admits to being particularly driven and something of a workaholic, but reasons that in the current environment, any executive that isn’t will not be successful. “At the moment you have to live for your business. I believe you’ve got to keep working with clients, you can’t just disappear in management, you’ve got to work in the law and do both jobs simultaneously,” says Coulter. “You have to be driven. If you don’t believe in your business and where you want to get to no-one will go with you.” Tughans is beginning a three-year strategic plan, which Coulter says will ensure it brings through the young talent in the firm to enhance the firm’s offering to clients. “First and foremost you have to look at what your clients are doing and that what you’re offering measures up to what they need,” he says. “Client care and focusing on what the client needs is imperative.” He is also on the CBI council, which he describes as a very useful forum for understanding how the lobby group interacts with government, what key issues business is facing and also how different types of businesses are dealing with different challenges in a struggling economy. In his specialist area of corporate finance and M&A he says the landscape has changed, but believes there are deals to be done as we enter 2010. “Things are now starting to move again and while the days of the highly leveraged deals are gone, we have clients out there that are seeing opportunities and taking them.”

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