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They’ve Got Next: The 40 Under 40 - M. Shams Billah of Hughes Hubbard & Reed

July 28, 2022, 9:00 AM

Please describe two of your most substantial, recent wins in practice.
In 2021, I led a large legal team that advised Grab, Southeast Asia’s “super app” company, in its $2.0 billion term loan B facility agented by JPMorgan, the largest debt financing in Asia’s technology sector. I oversaw over 80 local security documents across nine jurisdictions with over 20 legal entities. It was great to be part of a team that brought financial services to many of the unbanked in Asia.

I also represented JPMorgan in 2021 for its $1.175 billion refinancing of a loan facility to AMC Networks. This transaction was significant as a demarcation of the shift in media technology in the debt space and because of the specific advisers involved. It was a pleasure negotiating opposite a former mentor, Robert Downes at Sullivan & Cromwell.

What is the most important lesson you learned as a first-year attorney and how does it inform your practice today?
On a Friday afternoon at the tail-end of the Great Recession, a partner said to me: “We are in a services-oriented profession—if you don’t like that, you won’t succeed as an attorney.” That advice informs everything I do as an attorney to this day. As one of the few debt finance partners in the industry who equally represents both borrowers and lenders, I am either meeting my clients during one of the most important financial transactions of their business or guiding them through what is market and an appropriate level of risk to take to proceed in the competitive landscape of debt providers. My role is to service them and make their lives easier.

As that partner reminded me, for my borrower clients, this means either shepherding them through their first all-assets secured financings or, for my lender clients, giving them the confidence to know that I have looked through and analyzed all issues and pitfalls. Because of this advice, I am always looking to make the lives of my clients easier, which is the aim of my practice and how I achieve success today.

How do you define success in your practice?
I am successful when I have given my clients the comfort in knowing that they did not have to read all of a 200-page credit agreement and that what I negotiated for them is fair and on market and reasonable terms. On the borrower-side, I really enjoy being able to guide companies and their executives through transformative financing transactions, as well as building lasting relationships over the life of a credit facility, which is typically at least five years. On the lender-side, I enjoy working in partnership with the client and having them trust me on deal after deal to get them through transactions that will withstand their investment committees. Establishing these types of long-term relationships based on trust and ease with me is the key metric in how I define success in my practice.

What are you most proud of as a lawyer?
Practicing as a debt attorney affords me the opportunity to negotiate solutions to complex financial issues for companies at all stages of their life cycle, from early-stage companies at the beginning of the cycle to distressed companies at the end it. Two of my proudest moments relate to each such inflection in that cycle.

I recently represented Grab, Southeast Asia’s largest mobile technology company, in connection with a $2.0 billion credit facility that propelled the company to go public in December 2021. What I am most proud about is my role in helping Grab open the Asia market, allowing it to provide financial services to large swaths of unbanked populations throughout the globe. I am constantly proud of the results that my clients and I can achieve together, and I now advise other fintech companies that make a similarly positive difference.

At the other end of the cycle, I am most proud of helping companies weather financial distress while saving jobs and maintaining necessary operations. I was first exposed to this during my first year when I worked on the Kodak bankruptcy financing and have since worked on many other bankruptcy financings, including assisting companies struggling through Covid pressures.

Who is your greatest mentor in the law and what have they taught you?
I have been fortunate to have several mentors over my career, but one who stands out is Jay Clayton, a former partner at Sullivan & Cromwell and previous chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. He was a professor of mine in law school and greatly influenced my decision to start my career at Sullivan & Cromwell. Incidentally, Jay was the partner who gave me the “service-oriented” advice in my first year. Through the client-focused viewpoint he instilled in me, which included showing me how he strategically plans his emails and calls with clients when they are most available and present, I have learned to provide excellent client services through the stressful pressures of closing high-value deals. His calm demeanor and focus on emotional intelligence in his interactions with clients now permeates the way I lead my practice today. My goal will always be to make the lives of my clients easier.

Just for fun, tell us your two favorite songs on your summer music playlist.
“Jalebi Baby” by Tesher and Jason Derulo. This song appears in the new Marvel series “Ms. Marvel,” which features a South Asian Muslim teenage superhero girl who my daughter loves. Representation matters. Plus, it has a catchy tune that will continue to be a hit this summer with my family.

The rest of my summer playlist is controlled by my kids’ Disney track. Their current favorite is “Surface Pressure” from “Encanto,” which I can personally relate to 😊.

M. Shams Billah advises lenders and borrowers in general and specialty finance matters. The eldest son of Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants, he co-founded his firm’s Interfaith Attorney Affinity Group to boost camaraderie during the Covid-19 pandemic. A George Washington University alum, Billah was inspired to become a thought leader in Islamic finance while studying abroad in Egypt.

To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Helem at lhelem@bloombergindustry.com; Kibkabe Araya in Washington at karaya@bloombergindustry.com