New Zealand’s Young In-House Lawyer of the Year practiced in Europe before becoming General Counsel of the Complectus Group and a principal architect behind numerous transactions more complex than he is at liberty to discuss. Not bad, considering his initial practice area went up in smoke along with the Celtic Tiger.
When Patrick Gamble arrived at The Cordis Auckland for the New Zealand Law Awards last November, he wasn’t expecting to win. His fellow finalists represented some of New Zealand’s best-known corporates, and you never know how thoroughly every entry is scrutinised. Pretty closely, it turns out, and no one was more surprised than Gamble. “There were a few hugs and some pretty big smiles. We were up against some pretty impressive people.”
The spotlight might have been unexpected, but it was well earned. Gamble practised law aboard the Irish rollercoaster of the mid-2000s (before and after the GFC), and moved to Malta to handle major restructuring and M&A activity right after that country joined the Eurozone. Later, his work at top corporate law firm Russell McVeagh earned the notice of Andrew Barnes, the entrepreneur, philanthropist and founder of Complectus, the country’s largest fiduciary services company. Its dominance is in large part thanks to Gamble, who has led numerous acquisitions and in 2017 engineered an exceptionally complex settlement after a would-be buyer dropped out at the eleventh hour.
It’s also unexpected because a career in law was never the plan. Gamble attended Otago University in his hometown of Dunedin with the notion that he’d join MFAT, and an honours degree in political science was a means to that end. But when he changed his mind about joining the diplomatic corps, his degree in law – almost an afterthought at the time – suddenly became the point, and he walked directly into one of the country’s most prominent blue-chip firms.
He says his career has followed a slightly unusual path, taking opportunities as they arose: “I went straight overseas after university. It was only meant to be a six-month stint. Russell McVeagh had offered me a grad position in the litigation team, but agreed to let me get a short O.E. in first – but I picked up a job in Debt Capital Markets at Arthur Cox in Dublin, and stayed there for three-and-a-half years.
“At the time, it seemed too exciting to leave. I got to Ireland just in time to see the last of the Celtic Tiger, and was still working there through the GFC and property market collapse, which pretty much eliminated the entire DCM industry for a while. In some ways, that experience shaped my career. I got to see first-hand how quickly it can turn, how some people folded, and others managed to battle on and survive. You couldn’t ask for better experience.”
Then came Malta, where his clients in the international corporate finance division included some of the world’s largest investment banks and corporates. Gamble finally returned home in 2012 after a six-year sojourn. Not long after, Andrew Barnes entered the picture, and the pair established a long-term partnership that extends beyond Complectus to the multi-pronged investment and property company Coulthard Barnes Capital.
Barnes says of Gamble, “He is understated and unfailingly polite, which are not necessarily common traits in our world – but I’ve never seen anyone operate more effectively in his role. As General Counsel in a highly acquisitive business you live and die by what you can get over the line, and Paddy is the ultimate closer. His work rate is extraordinary.”
It’s tempting to compare Gamble to the Suits character Harvey Spector, the sharply dressed deal-maker with a steel-trap mind, but he is a long way from a typical TV lawyer, having learned from the best – and the worst. “As a junior I sat in a lot of boardrooms where I didn’t get to say much. It was hard at the time – you’re basically just there to take notes, and maybe make the tea – but I learned a lot, particularly from the guys who were prepared to put ego aside to get deals done.
“For me now, I try to listen, and see things from the other side’s point of view. If people have made it into a room together, they generally want to make a deal – you just need to find a way past the hurdles. Some things, like price, can be difficult, but if people know you’re listening, and at least trying to accommodate them, they tend to try a bit harder to keep moving forward. Sometimes that’s all it is. That, and patience. Some issues take time to resolve, and some people are determined to score points along the way, or at least be seen to score points, but there’s no point getting riled up. Better to stay focused and move on. Oddly, I always think the point scoring starts when people are starting to feel stretched…”
Meanwhile, Gamble’s sporting career reveals a lot about his discipline and appetite for competition. He spent 20 years in competitive Judo, representing Northern Ireland and Malta along the way, and placing fifth at the 2012 Commonwealth Championships, before changing tack and becoming a New Zealand Powerlifting Champion in 2015.
There’s plenty more to be done with Complectus, and further industry transformation is still ahead, including with sister company PaySauce, which is taking blockchain payroll software to the world.
And that nascent political career may not be behind him entirely – our conversation with Gamble reveals he certainly remains passionate about the state of the nation.