Senior Associate, Allen & Overy (Global Project Finance Group)
Chinedu Ihenetu-Geoffrey, (MSc in Law and Finance, 2016)
Studying at the University of Oxford was an absolute dream. As one of my previous work supervisors put it, 'it is like joining the league of global immortals' and I couldn't agree more.
As a young lad growing up in Nigeria, I was always intrigued by the prospect of fighting for the rights of the helpless. This attracted me to a career in law. As an undergraduate, I absolutely loved trial advocacy and went on to participate in several moot trial competitions around the world (including at the Monroe E Price Freedom of Expression moot court competition at the University of Oxford in 2010). The 2010 Oxford moot was a mind-blowing experience and I dreamt of returning to Oxford as a student one day.
As a fresh graduate from law school, I worked (for a couple of years) as a finance associate in one of Nigeria's leading law firms advising on a broad range of financing transactions across different sectors. Although I gained valuable practical experience working on those transactions, I was largely learning on the job and did not have a deeper/thorough understanding of the core concepts of finance law and the key commercial objectives that underpinned the transactions I worked on. I genuinely felt the need to pursue further studies in order to advance my knowledge in the interaction between law and finance and their application to solving clients' problems. The Oxford MLF programme was the perfect match for what I wanted to achieve because it combined a highly analytic academic core with tailor-made practical applications derived from collaboration with some of the world's leading professional and regulatory organisations. I choose the MLF (typified by the Law and Economics of Corporate Transactions course) because (a) I wanted a practical-oriented programme that would help me to develop a strong business focus and commercial mindset in solving clients' problems and (b) I knew the programme would unlock vistas of other opportunities to learn and advance my career.
I would say that my journey to Oxford was extremely challenging. It was challenging because not only did I had to ensure I got absolute top grades from my undergraduate law programme to gain admission into the MLF, I had to overcome immense funding challenges to be able to attend the course after gaining admission. I am forever grateful to the University of Oxford (through the MLF award) and the Foreign Commonwealth Office (through the Chevening scholarship) for providing me the needed funding to undertake the MLF programme.
What is your favourite memory of your time at Oxford?
I had so many amazing memories that I hold dear during my time at Oxford that it's difficult to narrow down to a single one. Perhaps the most captivating for me was listening to the fabulous musical talents at my college (Brasenose) perform at the renowned platnauer concert - it was a truly glorious experience and I wouldn't swap it for anything else.
Which Oxford scholars (if any) live on your bookshelves?
There are quite a few of them but the most prominent ones are:
- Jon Armour, Dan Awrey, Paul Davies, Luca Enriques, Jeffrey N. Gordon, Colin Mayer and Jennifer Payne for their lovely book on Principles of Financial Regulation.
- Jennifer Payne and Louise Gullifer for their lovely book on Corporate Finance Law: Principles and Policy.
What is your current role? What is a regular day like?
I am a Senior Associate in the Global Project Finance Group at Allen & Overy LLP and I am based in London. I advise project sponsors, governments, banks and other financial institutions on various complex finance, projects and banking transactions across different sectors in Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
The most interesting thing I love most about my job is that there is no 'regular day'. Each day is unpredictable and depends on the needs of my clients - a day may start up relatively quiet and end up being a 'late-nighter'!
Your core areas of expertise include Project Finance, Energy and Infrastructure. What led you to these areas and how do you feel the MLF and your wider studies prepared you for them?
I started my career in Lagos as a Finance lawyer and was privileged to work on the financing of some of the most important energy and infrastructure projects in Nigeria. Living and working in Nigeria, I witnessed (first hand) the big infrastructure deficit in Nigeria and the huge amount of work required to bridge the infrastructure gap. I really like my area of work because I genuinely feel that I am meaningfully contributing to building tangible assets/projects (e.g development of an airport, sea port, wind farm or power plant) that positively impact the lives of people in the various jurisdictions in which the projects are located. The MLF programme strongly prepared me for my work by equipping me with a deeper understanding of the core aspects of finance and a sufficient blend of commercial awareness of clients' businesses - knowledge and skills which have been extremely valuable to my work and team.
Who has been the most influential person in your career? Why?
I have had so many coaches (Professor Gbadebo Olagunju and Professor Olusegun Yerokun to mention a few) and other amazing mentors all through my career but I learnt the art of legal writing (a fundamental tool for all lawyers regardless of area of expertise) from Professor Olanrewaju Fagbohun (my mentor). As an undergraduate student, I worked as a research assistant for Professor Fagbohun for several years where I honed my legal writing skills and love for published scholarship. I believe that my strong legal writing skills, and all-round improvements in other areas, formed the bedrock of the successes I have achieved so far in my career.
What advice would you give to current students at the start of their careers in the legal profession?
My simple advice is that 'it is not what you don't have that limits you, it is what you have but you don't know how to use'. Coming from a very humble background, it would have been easy for me to feel inadequate or unprepared in the face of fierce competition in some of the institutions or places I went to, but I dug deep, worked incredibly hard and demonstrated unequivocally that I could stand meritoriously amongst the very best in the world. Any member of the current cohort feeling inadequate can draw inspiration from the things I did and how they have contributed immensely to my career successes so far.
The MLF programme strongly prepared me for my work by equipping me with a deeper understanding of the core aspects of finance and a sufficient blend of commercial awareness of clients' businesses - knowledge and skills which have been extremely valuable to my work and team