Incubating talent, incentivizing teamwork

An interview with Faiza Saeed
Faiza Saeed

An interview with Faiza Saeed

Cravath, Swaine & Moore’s Presiding Partner Faiza J. Saeed is one of America’s top media and entertainment lawyers. She took time out to tell Leaders League about the deals her firm is currently working on, including Disney's proposed blockbuster acquisition of 21st Century Fox, as well as what it means to be the first female presiding partner in Cravath’s 200-year history.


Leaders League: You’ve been working on Disney’s proposed acquisition of 21st Century Fox. Is a transaction of this magnitude an outlier in today’s media-sector M&A market, or part of a wider trend?


Faiza J. Saeed: The M&A market has remained strong as companies continue to pursue growth through acquisitions. In the US, tax reform has made companies more profitable, which has also facilitated dealmaking. Activity has been particularly robust in the media sector where technology continues to disrupt the ecosystem, driving consolidation and vertical integration.


Are there any other sectors that you see as key drivers of M&A activity over the next few quarters?


The pharmaceutical/biotech sector is another area that has seen a surge in high-value M&A.  As an example, Cravath represented AveXis, a clinical-stage gene therapy company, on its $8.7bn acquisition by Novartis – a transaction that adds AveXis’ capabilities in gene therapy to the internal portfolio of Novartis, advancing treatment options for spinal muscular atrophy. We also represented Johnson & Johnson last year on its $30bn purchase of Actelion, the largest in Johnson & Johnson’s history, with a related spin-off of Actelion’s early-stage R&D pipeline. These transactions demonstrate that large pharmaceutical companies are eager to add to their product portfolios.


What has been your biggest challenge as Cravath, Swaine & Moore’s Presiding Partner since taking up the position in January 2017?


We have a model for incubating talent and incentivizing the kind of teamwork required to advise on high-stakes, high-impact legal matters. It requires a significant investment in our people and a focus on reflecting our values throughout the organization.


You are the first woman to hold the position of Presiding Partner in Cravath’s 200-year history. Do you expect to see more women hold such positions in the near future?


It was a tremendous honor to be elected by my partners to serve in this role and I view it as an opportunity to serve a remarkable institution. I hope we will see more women in leadership roles in the legal profession and across business organizations. That aspiration requires investment at every phase, from recruitment to retention to ensuring that opportunities to excel are fairly distributed, and I believe our approach to training, including our system of continuously rotating our associates through different practice areas and practice groups, aligns well with that goal. Our last three partnership classes have been 55% women.


More broadly, what major trends and developments do you see impacting the legal profession in the short to medium term?


Artificial intelligence (AI) is providing new tools to free up lawyers to focus more on substantive legal analysis and advice, and that is going to have a longer-term impact on how lawyers practice. While AI is changing how we practice, rapidly emerging technology is also changing what we practice. The effect of blockchain on capital markets law and corporate governance, among others, is poised to create seismic shifts. There will undoubtedly be new opportunities, but also new challenges as the technology disrupts traditional business models.

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