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There are many parallels between racing across the Atlantic in a sailboat and managing a corporate deal, says Bruno Basuyaux. The relentless pressure, the lack of sleep, the physical exertion (yes!) and, above all, the need for a high-quality teamwork. But there the similarities end.

Recalling his world record-breaking seven-day race across the Atlantic in June, Bruno says that he was wet (a lesson of humidity both inside and outside the boat) through the entire time, he barely ate or slept, keeping three-hour watches, he was in a constant state of motion and there was the round the clock deafening noise of the boat chopping through the waves. (The photos don’t tell half the story.)

For all that, it was an experience that Bruno wouldn’t have missed for the world. “You have the sheer exhilaration of going at speed through the water, the majesty of the ocean, the power of changing weather, the absolute focus on the challenge – it is really like nothing else I have ever experienced. It is a total change for your everyday life.”

No surprise, then, that Bruno is looking forward to doing more races in future. In November 2021, after having delivered the same boat from Portugal to the Canary Islands, he raced the ARC race across the Atlantic to the Caribbean with a crew of three. He finished second of the racing division in actual and corrected time after 12 days, 13 hours and 7 minutes, covering a total distance of 3,297 nautical miles, clocking a max speed of just under 30 knots and a record 24-hour distance of 339 nautical miles. He is now preparing for a number of double-handed races and a solo transAtlantic race which he hopes to do in August 2024.

The opportunity to do this record-breaking trip came when Bruno, a keen sailor, approached a well-known French round the world sailor, Jean-Pierre Dick, who was looking for crew to sail across the Atlantic from Newfoundland to Brittany. At that point in his life, Bruno was keen to pursue his interests – “while I am still relatively young (at 57…) and fit”. He had long wanted to do a long sail that would test his capabilities. The race certainly did that: working three hours on and three hours off, Bruno helped with all tasks that needed doing, including trimming the sails, steering and interpreting weather forecasts.

In exact numbers (for all the sailors out there), the sailboat was a 54-footer, and the 6-person crew completed the race in seven days, 14 hours and 43 minutes over 2,200 nautical miles. The crew sailed through three low pressure systems enduring winds over 40 knots and waves in excess of five metres. 

On dry land

As he battled the waves, Bruno almost certainly won’t have had time to reflect on his career with Herbert Smith Freehills, a firm he was with for more than 20 years before he retired in May 2017. He certainly saw lots of change during his time. When he joined the Paris office in 1996, there were just 14 lawyers, today there are 129.

In a small office, lawyers tended to a range of work, but with the banking crisis and the global financial crisis from 2007 onwards, Bruno gravitated to restructuring and insolvency work. He was involved for many years advising the administrators on the massive Nortel global insolvency, along with many others, which finally settled after nearly 10 years of proceedings. “It was extraordinarily interesting intellectually,” Bruno recalls. “At its height, there must have been 100 HSF lawyers on the various workstreams of the case. I was very fortunate to be a part of the HSF multidisciplinary team who acted on this ground-breaking very high-profile case. I am also proud to have contributed, at least I hope a little, to the training of a number of young associates who are now very prominent lawyers in the Paris market, at HSF or at other high-profile firms.”

He had a great time at the firm, making very good friends whom he is still in touch with very often, working on excellent deals and, for him, it was really like a second family – and remains a bit so today, albeit at a distance. However, wanting to spend more time with his children and to pursue his other interests, he felt that, after 20 years, he had done his due. “To be frank, as well, I think I had had enough of the pressure which had been quite intense over the last years of my time with the firm,” Bruno says.

He took on some other roles. He was asked by an American investment fund to become the chairman of the board of one of their participations, Camaieu, a French high street retailer which was going through financial and operational difficulties and had already been restructured twice (with HSF acting on both restructurings). A very intense period followed, involving a failed attempt at a €350 million high yield bond issue in New York, followed by the expeditious sacking of the CEO, the opening of insolvency proceedings after a three-day board meeting triggering lawsuit threats from creditors (before the business was first taken over by the creditors) to, eventually being put into insolvency and sold through insolvency proceedings in July 2020. “My tenure as chairman of the board was akin to a roller coaster ride. It was a real experience to “be” the client in tense insolvency situations and a (belated) eye-opener on how it feels to be a chairman and director in such cases.”  

Following that, Bruno was appointed by the liquidator of the parent company of Antalis SAS to join the board of the Antalis, a fairly significant paper and packaging company, listed on the Paris Bourse, as Antalis looked for potential buyers. This was interesting as it gave Bruno the opportunity to be a board member of a listed company, with the added responsibilities and obligations. However, there was less stress involved. “I like to say I was in the front seat of the car in the Camaieu situation and in the back seat for Antalis,” Bruno laughs.

These days, Bruno can enjoy plenty of free time. While still managing his and his family’s affairs, with his daughter settled at school in the UK and his son a second-year student at UCLA’s school of engineering, he is keeping very fit, including skiing in winter (pandemic permitting) and cycling, especially in the beautiful countryside of Corsica.  All getting ready for some testing times on sailboats.

Watch Bruno navigate the Atlantic below:

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