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By Lucy Harley-McKeown 10 December 2018

A Chicago corporate partner is to take the reins of Kirkland & Ellis, as the US firm preps for chairman Jeff Hammes’ leadership handover in February 2020.

Private equity specialist Jon Ballis will step into the shoes of Hammes in two years time, bringing his 10-year tenure as chairman to an end.

Ballis’ practice focuses on leveraged buyouts of private and public companies, strategic M&A and growth equity. He has a pedigree handling matters for large private equity houses such as Bain, KKR and Madison.
Members of the committee are understood to have chosen Ballis from its ranks last week. Rules of the firm state that members of its committee step down from their roles when they turn 60 years old. It is expected that Hammes will remain a partner at the firm.

Hammes has overseen a period of rapid growth at Kirkland & Ellis. Over the last five years the firm’s revenue has grown 57 per cent. The highest of any global firm. The 10-year figures are even more impressive with a growth of 126.1 per cent.

Kirkland’s growth trajectory in the US was mirrored in London, with a huge growth spurt coming five years ago. Between 2011 and 2013 it made more partner promotions than any other US firm in London with 15, and also bought in six lateral hires. By 2014 it had become the fourth-largest US firm in the City, with a revenue of £100m.
With Kirkland’s management age rules in place, it was clear that the firm was poised to pick its next leader. However, the firm is planning ahead for its changes in succession, with over two years to go until the official handover. UK elite firm Macfarlanes surprised many this year when it named Sebastian Prichard Jones as its next senior partner, over two years before Charles Martin’s term ends.

Unlike other US firms such as Latham and Mayer Brown, Kirkland has decided to stick with a partner from its global HQ of Chicago. Latham and Mayer Brown both opted to elect London-based partners last year – Richard Trobman and Jeremy Clay respectively – symbolising the importance of London in decision-making.
In terms of management news in the City, Kirkland hired Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s David Higgins at the end of last year to co-lead the office with partner Stephen Lucas.