Matt Keogh on funds, the future of IMG and…..being a personal trainer

"I've always believed that resilience is a crucial, often underestimated, element in any successful commercial organisation and any successful person."

Once Australia's cricket selectors had unaccountably decided to overlook Matt Keogh's claims to selection for the national team, his attention became increasingly focused on a career which might be at the heart of the big questions in society. "It always seemed to me that those questions arose most often in the forums of law, politics and education and I was fascinated by them," Matt recalls. "Seeing how those problems were tackled was something that I found constantly interesting and I reckoned that law might be the thing that would allow me to play my own part in the debate."

During Matt's university days, his primary interest was in constitutional law, although he pragmatically identified the commercial side of the profession as the one most likely to offer him the best all-round training and undertook a summer clerkship with the Australian legal giant then known as Freehills. Matt's application process was slightly unusual – he simply applied to (and was accepted by) all the sponsors of his university law society! He is quick to acknowledge that the approach would not work today, but laments the fact. "Knowing the right firm for you is a major thing but one of my big frustrations is that we still expect students to have their professional lives mapped out at the age of nineteen," Matt comments. "How many nineteen year-olds really have it all sorted out at that age?"

Having graduated from Macquarie University with his law degree, Matt decided to take what he describes as an "extended gap year" before throwing himself body and soul into the legal profession. "For the best part of two years, I worked in the fitness industry as a personal trainer, while keeping my hand in with Freehills as a paralegal," he explains. "I don't think that I ever really intended to veer away from the legal path but when someone at Freehills advised me that it might be time to crack on with my career, I saw their point and took their advice."

As a paralegal, Matt had been involved with the funds group at Freehills, an association that would become set in stone when he began there as a fully-fledged lawyer. "I've always liked funds people," he muses. "Good funds lawyers have got to have a bit of intellect about them and be good at handling practically the various moving parts that go with most funds transactions but they also don't tend to take themselves too seriously. If M&A lawyers are sometimes described as red-meat carnivores, I like to think of funds lawyers as a more omnivorous breed!"

A brief sojourn with the banking group at Freehills, where he was on an accelerated track towards partnership, was enough to convince Matt that funds were indeed where his heart lay. For the rest of his time at Freehills, he would play a full role in the boom synonymous with the early years of the twenty-first century until his marriage brought about an unexpected shift in his perspective. "It turned out that my wife had always wanted to work overseas and while I hadn't really thought too seriously about moving to London or New York, I realised that if I was ever going to do it, it had to be now or never," Matt says. "I did a lot of research because I was looking for a firm with values that suited me – one that had integrity, was serious about excellence and would leave no stone unturned for its clients but also one that was human and promoted diversity."

Matt's search led him to apply to one firm – Linklaters. Duly accepted, he joined IMG in 2007 and took to the place at once. These were the last months of the golden economic years and Matt was immediately as fully occupied as he had ever been, working across one of the broadest suites of funds work on offer at any firm in London. "We hardly had the time to think about possible economic tremors on the horizon because we were so busy," he reflects. "It never felt as though doom was on its way. When things did go badly wrong, a large part of what we had been doing disappeared almost overnight, so we had to be very flexible, which we were, and spent a lot of our time in the immediate aftermath of 2008 helping to unpick Lehmans' asset management operation. I've always believed that resilience is a crucial, often underestimated, element in any successful commercial organisation and any successful person."

In 2015, Matt succeeded Scott Bowie in the role of global head of IMG at Linklaters. "I am really excited about what this team can achieve," he says. "We've got a brilliant global platform, really excellent people, some wonderful clients and a real ambition and hunger to go places. Equally importantly I think we are a really good place to work – the group has a legacy of being made up of a diverse group of nice people who enjoy spending time together, and I am very committed to the desire that this should continue on my watch."

A decade on from his arrival at Silk Street, Matt has long passed the two years that he originally imagined that he might be spending in London. Is he here for the duration now? "I think most Australians fondly imagine that they'll return home one day and I guess I'm the same but I couldn't possibly put a date on it," he says. "I love the firm as a place to work, still enjoy what I'm doing and we've still got a lot to achieve together."

This article was first published on the Linklaters Alumni Portal