In conversation with Montek Mayal on his journey from a Senior Managing Director in FTI’s Economic and Financial Consulting Segment to a Partner at Osborne Partners

Mr Montek Mayal was recognised as a Global Elite Thought Leader in Who’s Who Legal’s Arbitration Review (Expert Witnesses) for 2021 and 2022, one of less than 30 practitioners globally and the only individual selected from India. He is a Partner at Osborne Partners (OP), and Founder and Practice Head for the firm’s Asia and the Middle-East business. Prior to joining Osborne Partners, he was a Senior Managing Director in FTI’s economic and financial consulting segment (a large US-listed business advisory firm with a market cap of almost USD 5 billion), and founded and led that practice in India.

He has been interviewed by Aditi Sharma, EBC/SCC Online Student Ambassador who is currently pursuing law from UPES Dehradun.

  1. To begin with, for the interest of our readers would you be kind enough to tell us something about yourself and your journey?

By way of some background, while I was born in New Delhi (India), I was quickly pushed out of my home and sent to boarding school in the US. I finished my schooling and higher education in the US (with a degree in maths and computer science), before joining FTI’s economic consulting and international arbitration practice as an analyst. I spent the next 12 plus years with FTI. While at the firm, I also completed my CFA and CVA qualifications.

 

My professional journey in many ways has been quite straightforward but definitely interesting. Straightforward because, until recently, I spent my entire career at one firm – FTI Consulting – and focused on expert witness and damages work in investment and commercial disputes. Interesting as both the work I do is extremely interesting and intellectually challenging, and that I have had the opportunity to work in and travel to many different jurisdictions.

 

I spent my initial years in London working on some of the most high-value, complex disputes including those arising from the 2008 global financial crisis. In 2011 and 2012, I helped expand our new Asia practice out of Singapore. I continued to work on valuation-oriented disputes cases and advising clients on telecom spectrum auctions. It was during this time that the senior leadership team at FTI was rather supportive of my ambition to explore India as a potential market for our work. This finally resulted in an opportunity for me at a relatively young age to move back home to set up FTI’s economic consulting and disputes practice in India (in September 2014).

 

In terms of my work, I have significant experience in issues including valuation of businesses and shares in relation to intellectual property disputes and valuations, shareholder and joint venture disputes, private equity investments, investment treaty claims, calculation of lost profits and wasted costs, spectrum auctions and market, financial and economic analysis, research and study. I have developed and designed a number of quantitative models to value and forecast different aspects of businesses, and my industry experience encompasses energy and power products, consumer and branded goods, real estate, hospitality, industrial gases, oil and gas, mining, petrochemicals, diversified and industrial materials, TMT, financial services, travel, and aviation, among others.

 

I have been appointed as an expert in domestic and international arbitrations and in competition matters, in India as well as globally. I testified before tribunals on numerous occasions (around 30 times) since 2017 on claims ranging from less than USD 1 million to over USD 1.5 billion and have worked on over 100 expert matters. We built a strong, leading team in the market across Delhi and Mumbai, and worked on claims worth over many billion dollars over that period.

As you might quickly notice, my work gives the opportunity to work on diverse issues and some of the most complex problems.

 

I also remain quite involved in the wider community. This includes my roles and responsibilities at Society of Construction Law (as a Vice Chairman); as a member of the Steering Committee at Young Mumbai Centre of International Arbitration (MCIA); Co-Chair of Society of Construction Law’s Young Leaders Group (India), member, founding working group, Indian Association of Litigation Finance and most recently as the South Asia representative for Young International Council for Commercial Arbitration (ICCA). These are important as it allows many of us to contribute even small ways to the larger profession and community.

 

  1. Kindly enlighten us about your achievements in the field of FTI’s economic consulting and international arbitration, since you were the founder of this practice in India. What inspired you to choose this field of expertise?

That is a good question. I joined the field rather unexpectedly out of college (Colgate University, New York). With my mathematics and computer science background, I was aiming to pursue a career in investment banking. I always had an interest in quantitative subjects and was drawn to finance and valuation. In that pursuit, I met some people from firms such as FTI Consulting. I was particularly drawn by the work such firms were doing – which sat at the intersection of finance, valuation and law in expert witness and damages work. I was subsequently recruited (as a research analyst) in the newly established London office of FTI Consulting, working directly with two of the leading experts globally: Chris Osborne and Mark Bezant. That was the added bonus – to work with such remarkable individuals. This was rather appealing.

 

In terms of my achievements, I suspect that should be asked to someone else and how others view the work my team and I achieved in India.

 

One difficult challenge we faced at the outset was the lack of use of and awareness around damages and quantum experts in commercial disputes in India. The market was not well developed for such work and no other specialised firms really existed. An unintended consequence of this wider problem was also that expert evidence was not considered (and perhaps not understood) as strongly as it is in more mature jurisdictions such as the UK, the US and Singapore. I believe we have played an important part in helping educate the market about the use of experts.

 

More broadly I had the opportunity and privilege to build the leading damages team in the country with some exceptions colleagues and work on some of the largest disputes in India or involving Indian parties and Government, over the past 7 odd years. This was further an enriching experience for me personally, as I had the opportunity to appear as an expert in front of some of the most renowned Judges and arbitration practitioners, working with exceptional counsel and client teams.

  1. You graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with BA in mathematics and computer science from your university, which is the degree of highest distinction. Can you please tell us something about your college life and what are the biggest takeaways and lessons you have learned from it?

I went to Colgate University in Upstate New York which is a top-tier liberal arts college.

My priority in college was to increase my number of interactions with fellow students and the faculty, and participate or engage in as many activities as I could. Be it sports (I played NCAA Division I college golf and also played other club sports), cultural activities, involvement in college fraternity, and other academic and extra-curricular activities.

This in whole form helped develop my personality and interests, enhance my overall experience and skills, and gave me important exposure to a variety of things – in many cases putting me way outside my comfort zone. All of this comes together in one way or another during and (much) after college life; indeed I have benefited from much of these experiences in my professional career. Of course, importantly, I made many friends and relationships through my various engagements – making the overall experience that much more enjoyable.

So my main recommendation for students would to ensure to get the full college experience much of which sits out the formal classes.

 

  1. Since you are well renowned in the field of arbitration and have also been recognised as a Global Elite Thought Leader in Who’s Who Legal’s Arbitration Review (Expert Witness) for the year 2021 and 2022 and is the only individual selected from India. What are your views upon the scope of arbitration in India and worldwide?

My views are generally quite positive.

Disputes in sectors such as energy, mining and construction remain prevalent. Alongside this, disputes in sectors such as financial services, intellectual property and telecommunications have increased significantly. The value and complexity of claims have also increased. This is partly the result of globalisation and technological advancements, increase in cross-border investments and continuing growth in transactions.

In this background, businesses prefer to resolve their disputes through ADR (alternative dispute resolution) mechanisms and particularly arbitration as it offers confidentiality, efficiency and access to specialised experts – who are often pivotal to the process given the complex nature of the claims brought forward in these disputes.

India is no different and will benefit from such developments. Further, the Indian legislation and judiciary have been supportive of the use of arbitration as a dispute resolution mechanism. Be it the amendments to the Arbitration Act, development of infrastructure, or that the courts are also increasingly reluctant to interfere in arbitral proceedings. This is particularly relevant for markets like India where courts are generally overburdened. Finally, the rapid expansion of legal talent will also continue to support the growth of the arbitration profession and parties choosing deep talent available here for representation.

Alongside these developments, expert witnesses, especially in the field of damages assessment, have also over the past decade been increasingly involved in arbitration proceedings. However, in emerging markets such as India, the use of experts has remained relatively constrained. It is partly due to lack of awareness and limited understanding of the proper use of experts that I explained earlier.

This is also changing. The past few years have witnessed increasing awareness of the role experts might play in commercial disputes in the Indian market. Additionally, tribunals and courts are increasingly seeking to rely on objective and independent analysis of claims in awarding economic damages – which can be of considerable sums. Such developments are likely to result in greater, more frequent use of experts and more rigorous and consistent approaches to calculation of damages. I believe India would benefit from perhaps a more disciplined approach to promoting the use of expert evidence in domestic disputes (litigation and arbitration) and perhaps establishing necessary protocols and guidelines.

  1. What key points would you like to give to young students/lawyers/finance enthusiasts who wish to make a career in the field of international arbitration?

MM: Today there are immense opportunities to pursue different careers in the field of international arbitration. For example: a traditional solicitor practice, counsel practice focusing on advocacy, careers as a professional expert witness or arbitrator, opportunities as a tribunal secretary, and there also other opportunities which are instrumental to the success of arbitration more generally (such as working with service providers – arbitral institutions, online dispute resolution platforms, technology and transcription service providers). So in short many career paths.

 

In terms of advice, I think at the outset it is important to identify your interests, and then, importantly, commit. International arbitration is a demanding field. It is important to be very well informed, to be update on relevant developments and to be constantly enhancing your skill sets.

 

So the question is how do you do that. My first suggestion would be find a job that provides you with the relevant training. For example, a law firm, or as a junior in someone’s chambers, as an analyst in reputed expert witness firm, and so on. My second suggestion would be to engage or participate in the various initiatives and trainings available today (for example, moots, advocacy workshops) – indeed one unintended benefit of COVID has been that much of such training is available online and webinars have further made good content easily accessible.

 

  1. What basically is your work in your current firm and what all measures do you think can be taken to make it more established in the countries like India?

Osborne Partners is a consulting firm specialising in complex business and legal challenges. We apply principles of economics, finance, valuation and accounting to a range of issues in the areas of economic regulation, public policy, commercial strategy and disputes. We are a boutique firm but often we deal with multibillion dollar issues. None of them are straightforward.

 

On a personal front, I continue to focus on quantification of damages and expert witness work in both domestic and international commercial and investment disputes and in competition matters (involving merger assessments or antitrust investigations), in India and globally. My role however has expanded and increasingly my work is global and involves cross-border disputes.

  1. Would you like to tell us about what type of work you are currently seeing?

We are witnessing disputes arising from a wide spectrum of issues and developments, really. Perhaps it is slightly more tilted towards post-M&A/joint venture and shareholder-related disputes, in many cases resulting from allegations of misrepresentations, fraud, and indemnity-related claims but also mismanagement concerns and non-performance of the underlying contract (for example, put and call options in particular involving private equity funds). The key question often in such disputes is the value of a block of shares or the entire underlying business. Often the amounts at stake are high; the largest matter I have done recently involved a USD 1.5 billion claim between a government-owned entity and a private sector company.

 

I am also acting as an expert in many IP-related disputes where there is an allegation of infringement or theft. These are generally quite complex and with the increase in investments in intellectual property assets we anticipate this trend to continue.

 

Finally, investment arbitration matters continue to be a large part of current portfolio. These are often large, complex and multifaceted. State actions are triggered by macro-economic volatility (think energy or commodity prices), domestic developments (be it crises, political or social considerations) or global disturbances (including wars and pandemics). These often result in operations of certain companies operating in the host country being affected.

  1. How important is it to maintain a professional life successfully at an international level and how can one achieve it?

In short, it is important. The work we do is by definition is global – you work with multinational clients, global law firms, arbitrators with diverse backgrounds, on disputes across various industries and jurisdictions. Therefore, a global or international positioning – and reputation – is quite central.

 

In terms of how might achieve this – I think in many ways it will come naturally, over time, through your work. However, it takes effort – whether by way of maintaining your relationships, constantly engaging with your clients, contributing to your field through academic work or participating in international events on topics of interest. All of this pays out in the long term.

  1. You were earlier the FTI’s Consulting Senior Managing Director and India Practice Leader and now you are a Partner and Practice Head – Asia and the Middle East at Osborne Partners. What changes have you witnessed in your professional as well as personal life?

It is still very early days at OP. One large change for me is that my role – and therefore responsibilities – have really expanded – from leading India to now being responsible for a larger region (of which India remains an important part). While this will be a difficult challenge, I am very much looking forward to this; I enjoy building a practice together with exceptional people and meeting new and existing clients from diverse backgrounds. There is a unique rush to this.

 

This will also mean my business travel will increase considerably in my new role – again something I cannot complain about especially after the severe restrictions that have been in place over the last two years. But the benefit of such travel is the opportunity to meet clients, colleagues, friends – again something I quite enjoy. There is no real substitute to meeting people in person and that remains the best way to build meaningful relationships and trust – both rather important in the work we do.

 

One of course more drastic change is moving from a large US-listed firm to being an equity partner in a boutique practice focused on niche work. This also means the team is leaner and more connected, culture is even more critical, organisation is flat, partners are much more hands-on, emphasis is on deep expertise on a limited number of subject-matters or skills, and people are encouraged to be more entrepreneurial. Another consequence of this set-up is also that everyone’s incentives are aligned; partners are encouraged to think about the firm as a whole which facilitates more collaboration and teams work across borders more often.

 

In terms of my personal life, not much changes; perhaps the earlier years will be more demanding as we build a new practice in this part of the work. But at the same time, my bandwidth has really freed up; there are lower number of administrative and reporting tasks. Therefore, I have more time to focus on more important things and have more personal time. This is a welcome change.

 

  1. Would you like to give any suggestions or guidance to our readers who wish to be like you one day?

In my view, each one of us needs to find our own path and define success in our own terms. What might be common are the characteristics that will ultimately help you achieve your goals and ambitions. I believe these include patience, perseverance, honesty and a constant mind for learning/relearning. I believe what is also rather important in your early years is to find a mentor (and team) that you admire and respect, and from who you will learn from – a lot. That should take precedence over any other quality or factor. You must be a sponge: absorb as much as you can so that you pick up the relevant skill sets and knowledge that will pay you dividends for many years to come. There will be distractions including those that might set you up for short-term gratification (such as higher pay in the short term) – but one must avoid such distractions and focus on long-term success.

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