October 01, 2004
Karrin Powys-Lybbe has dozens of deals under her belt—not bad for a 34 year-old who admits to having been "rough around the edges" when she stepped into Torys LLP after graduating from law school at the tender age of 24.
"I never tried to be somebody I am not," says Powys-Lybbe. In fact, she planned to become a litigator, and during her articles she attended the Supreme Court of Canada three times. But she also enjoyed her stint in the corporate department, even though she had never taken a securities course in law school.
Karrin's first task upon joining Torys as a lawyer was a cross-border transaction. "It was great, and just built up from there," she says of her practice. In fact, looking back, she says, becoming a litigator would not have meshed with her personality. "Litigation would have killed me," she says of the 10-year time frame it can take for a matter to come to an end. The three to four-month time frame for transactions to come to fruition is more suited to her self-described "bossy" nature.
"A remarkable amount of what we do is bossing people around and getting the client to focus on issues and keeping things moving and building momentum. I seem to be good at that," she says, joking that she's not "Miss Popularity."
But it's a personality, she says, that works for the complex transaction-based world in which she travels. She says you have to be "someone who takes ownership. Do it like you mean it and do it well."
Powys-Lybbe, who says she comes from a simple background where there was not a lot of education or money, says the key to her success is being herself. "I think people respond to genuineness as opposed to artifice. When they get what they see, they connect with people on that level."
Karrin recently represented MDC Partners Inc. in the spinoff of Custom Direct, Inc. into an income fund. She has also worked with CIBC World Markets in underwriting offers by the Energy Savings Income Fund and Noranda Inc. She's worked with Gerdau Ameristeel in a US$400-million private placement of senior notes and the IPO, and the Davis + Henderson Income Fund. She also represented TLC Vision Corporation in its merger with Laser Vision Centers Inc., among a host of other deals.
While much of her work comes through more senior colleagues, she says once she gets her foot in the door "the clients almost always call me back." Powys-Lybbe says that the biggest challenge at the moment is time. "Deals are increasingly complicated," she says. Yet, "clients expect deals to be done quicker. The challenge is making sure you are doing it right."
Doing it right means making sure that you have the right team around you, she says. At a recent closing dinner, the chief financial officer said the deal team was the best he had worked with on a transaction. "I think that's the biggest compliment," says Karrin, adding that a single lawyer can't make things happen alone. Powys-Lybbe says the team has to be well-oiled and work together to get to the end goal. Otherwise, there's a law firm in the wings waiting to fill your shoes.
"Everyone is a little less loyal. You can't sit back and assume that once you do a deal for a client that the client is going to stick with you forever."