Timothy Wilkins – CUP Catalyst Spotlight

What is your occupation and how did you come to work in this field?
I am a corporate partner who focuses on cross-border M&A transactions. I came to work in this field after college following an internship in Tokyo during the Japanese bubble era working on cross-border financings. After gaining three years’ experience working as the first foreign professional at this Japanese investment bank, I decided to do a JD/MBA. Being an M&A lawyer involves understanding the commercial drivers behind our clients, and the dual degree helped bolster my business skills to provide relevant commercial legal advice to my clients.

What is the biggest challenge of your work?
The biggest challenges of my work revolve around negotiating complex cross-border mergers. These often include managing the culturally unique issues of various legal jurisdictions, which play a prominent role in forging a deal. I’ve found that I have to be on top of US laws and regulations, as well as serve as a diplomat shuttling back and forth between buyers and sellers from different cultures and legal frameworks.

What is your proudest achievement?
My proudest achievement in the law was winning the Atlas M&A Deal of the Year for advising Geely, a Chinese entrepreneurial company, on its acquisition of Volvo cars from Ford Motor Company. Volvo was a corporation several times the size of Geely, yet we were able to overcome cultural and financial hurdles and negotiate a balanced agreement during the heart of the financial crisis of 2008. Under Geely’s management, Volvo’s sales have increased by double digits over the last few years and Ford was the only US automaker to not rely on federal funds to stay afloat during the financial crisis.

What leaders, thinkers or doers do you admire most?
I have tremendous respect and admiration for James O’Neal, Executive Director of Legal Outreach. James graduated from law school and immediately initiated a college preparatory program for students in underserved areas of New York City. James appreciated that the skills of a lawyer in writing, critical thinking and oral presentation could be key tools for success to students navigating the labyrinth of high school and college placement. His selfless determination to help others has been an inspiration on how I may use my legal skills and business experiences to move the dial on social justice issues in the most challenging communities.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
In ten years, I would like to continue to be a role model in the legal profession, both as a partner at Freshfields and as a leader in the public sector. I was fortunate to recently be appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio to the Board of New York City Global Partners, which is a forum for cities around the globe to exchange best practices on how to improve urban life by tackling issues such as housing, transportation and education. I am committed to participate in these types of public service projects as a way to give back to the communities from which I’ve drawn such rich support throughout my career.

What would be your advice to young people who want their careers and lives to have an impact?
I would advise young people to expose themselves early and often to different countries and cultures. The world will only continue to grow smaller, and those professionals who are sensitive in adapting to various cultural differences will be the most successful at both achieving professional results and having a meaningful social impact.

Did you have a mentor or do you mentor someone else?
My first mentor after law school was Ambasador Olara Otunnu when I was a Ford Fellow at the International Peace Academy. Ambassador Olara Otunnu taught me the art of diplomacy in the most combustible situations of international conflicts. His calm and analytical approach to offering solutions that bridged differences has been a consistent inspiration for how I approach all negotiations, in both the M&A and public spheres.