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HSA founder Hemant Sahai to hand managing partner reins to Khaitan’s Amitabh Sharma; Sahai reveals ambitious plans after harrowing bike accident

Hemant Sahai: Recovering well but planning for robust future for firm he founded
Hemant Sahai: Recovering well but planning for robust future for firm he founded

Khaitan & Co energy, infrastructure and corporate partner Amitabh Sharma has resigned and will join HSA Advocates as its managing partner, as HSA founder and managing partner Hemant Sahai is seeking to institutionalise the firm.

Sharma declined to comment when contacted, while Khaitan partner Haigreve Khaitan said in a phone message: “We wish him the very best!”

His joining follows that of ex-J Sagar Associates (JSA) partner Abeezar Faizullabhoy in 2014, both of whom had previously worked with Sahai while at JSA.

Sharma, a 1995 law graduate from Delhi University's Campus Law Centre, had joined Khaitan in 2010 from JSA, before which he was an independent practitioner.

It is understood that the composition of his team that will join him at HSA is not yet finally confirmed.

HSA’s current managing Hemant Sahai commented: “I thought it was a good idea to get some fresh energy on the execution and management side, so I can once again start focusing on what I'm much better at, to get institutionalised structure and to grow the firm more, and legal work, which I'm passionate about… We are very happy that Amitabh and his team are joining us.”

Sahai said that the firm now consisted of a “partnership collegium” of 18, of whom six were equity partners.

He said he hoped this would increase to around 30 partners in the “next couple of years” via lateral and internal inductions; this would be coupled by aspiring to a total headcount increase from between 80 to 90 now, to “250 lawyers over the next three to five year horizon” though the firm was “not in the race to compete on numbers of lawyers”.

Sharma: To manage HSA
Sharma: To manage HSA
The planned restructuring of the firm’s partnership is not the first in its history, but would draw in the help of an international HR consultancy, possibly from Singapore, explained Sahai.

“For the last several years we have been working at improving our internal structure, and it appears our effort is paying off,” he said, but noted: “We were all getting so caught up in execution and delivery, and I was not able to put enough time and effort in making the continuing structural changes that we wanted.”

Part of the changes would include a more robust remuneration framework, in order to incentivise partners better to give the firm a size and depth where it could take more risk.

“We want to start creating an alternative platform,” said Sahai. “Not just SAM (Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas), CAM (Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas), Khaitan and all. The idea is to have a platform which is strong enough, which I believe that we do - we've worked on this for the last several years.

“Now it is a question of translating it into something stronger.”

A lockstep was not on the cards, since it was “just a way of protecting those who are already in the lockstep structure”, said Sahai, explaining that currently the firm had a “very simple equity structure”, under which he held most of the equity.

Under the new model, he may still be the largest single equity holder, but might not necessarily be holding a simple majority anymore.

Soul searching

The firm has a retirement age of 68, with Sahai currently aged 52, but he said that while he did not “want to continue to work for rest of my life”, he was not looking to retire any time soon.

Sahai said he had in-part been prompted to decentralise the leadership of the firm following a serious motorcycle accident last month. “I was with my group of riders over a week long ride over Nilgiris, Coorg and the Western Ghats - a stunningly beautiful ride,” he recounted.

On the final day of the trip on 18 March, he was hit square in the leg by an oncoming truck near a construction site. He managed to call his co-riders and an ambulance taking him a “harrowing” 160km to a hospital in Goa, followed by an air ambulance to Delhi.

However, all surgeries had now been completed and the doctors were pleased with his recovery, he said. “My recovery has been astounding. 18th (April) marked one month and I am already able to manoeuvre onto a chair with assistance. I should be mobile in a couple of weeks and back on my feet in a couple of months.”

While his accident resulted in some soul searching for Sahai, he had been in conversation with Sharma for some time, he said. “There wasn't any epiphany moment after the accident. But the time to myself helped me crystallise everything firmly and with greater clarity, including getting rid of the self imposed shackles of timidity due to the last couple of years of me losing focus on the larger picture, which was something alien to my basic character  and personality.”

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