Red door Storage Units hallway perspective

A lawyer of 20 years’ standing, Olav Andriesse of LEXSIGMA acted for IMMOFINANZ Group when it decided to sell its 23-property City Box self-storage portfolio to US-operated Shurgard Self-Storage, marking IMMOFINANZ’s exit from the self-storage market. Here’s his role in the deal and how he managed to achieve a satisfactory outcome for all sides involved.

What was the deal?

IMMOFINANZ, the Austrian real estate investment and development company, sold City Box, the Dutch self-storage chain, to Shurgard.

IMMOFINANZ had first bought a 90 per cent stake in City Box back in 2007 (increasing it to 95 per cent in 2009). Shurgard bought the entire 23-property IMMOFINANZ Group portfolio of City Box. No details of the transaction, which were agreed in early summer 2015, were disclosed to the public. Shurgard already operated around 40 storage facilities in the Netherlands, so the company was able to improve its standing in this market considerably.

What was your involvement in the deal?

The City Box deal was a really good example of how well I and, therefore, LEXSIGMA do business, in that I like to present our clients with ‘a fully dedicated, lean and mean team’. Acting for the seller didn’t merit a very large team and most of the work in the due diligence phase was handled by the CFO of City Box. We were involved from the very beginning but only took a more prominent role later on in the due diligence phase.

In the virtual meeting room set up for the deal, our team at LEXSIGMA numbered three (Olav Andriesse, Monique Aykaz and Paul Hendriks), while there were 20 people from either Linklaters or Lexence registered purely for legal issues. In the end, I found it far more productive to have a sit-down, face-to-face meeting with the lawyers involved on both sides. I realise this may be viewed as a very Dutch way to do business, i.e. it’s an extremely direct approach, but I feel it is often the best way by far. It allows one to ‘cut to the chase’ early on in a deal, rather than having to wander around in irrelevant theoretical discussions, which tend to end up in a useless fight between the lawyers much of the time, I’ve found.

As a certified business mediator, I have learned to approach a conflict or a negotiation as a process instead of a fixed strategy. I believe it is worth it every time to invest in relationships first, before trying to convince the other party to give away something that is important to you and, perhaps, to him or her too. Looking at and listening to the other party, trying to remain respectful about their point of view, exchanging interests instead of merely standpoints – all these are what make a good deal. In other words, be ‘hard’ on the business but ‘soft’ on the individual. It’s the Harvard method of negotiation and mediation, and I’ve found it always works really well.

Once the contract was signed in early June here at LEXSIGMA, we still had some legal ends to tie up prior to the City Box organisation being handed to Shurgard. But thanks to a very good working relationship between Shurgard and IMMOFINANZ, as well as with both Lexence and Linklaters, happily most of the issues were settled easily and without any real disputes.

About the company

I founded LEXSIGMA in 2010 with two partners. All of us had 15 years of extensive experience in both business and law. Part of the reason for founding the company was to give us more flexibility in our lives. We had all worked for large international firms prior to forming LEXSIGMA and invariably had little influence over our work schedules.

With our own firm, we could combine work, family and outside interests in a more satisfactory fashion. For example, I was chairman of a supervisory board of a group of nursing homes at the time. My extra-curricular activities included being trained as a mediator and I had ambitions to start an MBA. I was also a father to three young children and husband to a successful business consultant with her own firm.

The partners of LEXSIGMA enjoy a lot of independence. We are focused on our clients but selective about those we deal with and act for. We do not take on every client that walks into our offices. If we feel that we cannot be of added value to a potential client, for instance, then we do not accept their assignment.

Another ethos of our firm is to get to know our clients personally. For that reason, clients always deal with the individual looking after their portfolio, rather than a variety of other members of staff. This is the case, even if it means staff have smaller workloads for a period. In this way, i.e. having fewer staff working on a client’s portfolio, they can keep the costs to a minimum for that client and maintain excellent client communication in the sense that LEXSIGMA staff will always be up to speed on the deal and their client’s needs. Only when it’s absolutely necessary will they ask another lawyer to get involved and even then only for the particular time for which they are required. Our firm differs from larger corporations in this respect, many of which have a number of staff dealing with the one client.

The one negative of this way of working is that it is often difficult to work with a number of clients at the same time, since total commitment and dedication are required. However, I believe that the dedication I get from clients offsets this. I was asked once what I regard as a real compliment for a client to give to me. I responded that this would be when a client feels free to call me during the weekend or when I am on holiday. Of course, I value my time off the same as everyone else, but when a client calls me at such moments, it means he feels comfortable in reaching out and that we have a strong relationship. Most of my clients are aware that if it is an inconvenient time for me when they call that I will tell them so and that I will always call back later. They know they can rely on my utter dedication to their business needs.

This attitude towards clients is exactly what all of the LEXSIGMA partners have in common and why our firm is so successful.