The ex-MP welcoming a new dawn in Joburg: artist’s impression.
Baker McKenzie has signalled a fresh start for its South Africa operation, a year after a storm of bullying allegations resulted in the departures of its former bosses in the region.
The global firm has appointed Lerisha Naidu, who was made up at the age of 32 and is the youngest member of its management committee, as the new Managing Partner of Baker's Johannesburg office.
Her predecessor, Morne van der Merwe, left the firm last year and was swiftly followed by Head of Africa Wildu du Plessis and Director of Africa Operations Bruce Schubach.
Bakers had relieved van der Merwe of his management duties several months earlier while it investigated a whistleblower’s complaint, but endemic problems with bullying at the Joburg branch were brought to wider attention when numerous former Baker McKenzie lawyers spoke to ROF about their miserable experiences. Sources spoke of humiliations and punishments working under the managers, who were known around the office as "the three musketeers".
When ROF presented its findings to the firm, Esteban Raventos, an Executive Committee member, said at the time, "We are deeply concerned about the workplace and cultural issues in our Johannesburg office and are resolute as a global team to put this right". He also said that change was coming, describing how, "For many months, we have been working to deeply understand the issues and implement fundamental management and structural changes to the office".
Now the adoption of a new sensibility is in full swing, with the appointment of Naidu - who leads the firm's pro bono, corporate social responsibility and diversity and inclusion functions in Johannesburg - representing a statement of intent by Bakers to restore its reputation in the local market and course correct its Joburg culture. The firm has added two other partners to the refreshed committee, while the Amsterdam-based partners who babysat the office in van der Merwe's absence will continue to support the new team for another year.
Commenting on her objectives, Naidu said, "In terms of our people, we are committed to being the best employer in the local market, by focusing on recruitment, retention, reward and recognition, inclusion, diversity and belonging, personal growth, learning, and fun".
Meanwhile, van der Merwe has started his own firm, Alchemy Law, where he will show Bakers what a huge mistake it has made by transforming base metals into gold.