Interview

Two women at the helm of a major and innovative cross-border restructuring

March 2018

AlixPartners Director Sophie Barbé and Managing Director Becky Roof recently led one of the largest-ever restructurings of French-listed company CGG. CGG is a fully integrated Geoscience corporation that provides leading geological, geophysical, and reservoir capabilities to a broad base of global oil and gas operations. The CGG restructuring, completed in February 2018, was a highly complex and multi-jurisdictional project with sophisticated debt solutions that required cross-Atlantic stakeholder and project managing in France and the United States.

We sat with Sophie and Becky to learn about the unique roles they played in this restructuring, and to share their experience and advice for women who aspire to lead companies’ most important projects.

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Sophie Barbé, Director, Paris restructuring team

How was the CGG restructuring unique in the French market and what role did you play?

CGG was a major first among cross-border restructurings – the combination of a French Safeguard proceeding and US Chapter 11 and 15 proceedings. The financial restructuring plan that major bank and bond creditors agreed to support was implemented in France, while the related guaranty claims were implemented in the US for the UK, Netherlands, Norway, and Canada subsidiaries.

CGG was one of the largest restructurings in France since Eurotunnel, with almost $2 billion in debt swapped for equity, issuance of $355 million and €80.4 million of second lien secured notes, a share capital increase in cash of €112 million and a refinancing of $810 million senior secured debt. I oversaw the AlixPartners team which included people from both the Paris and London offices, and teamed up with our US colleagues. We prepared and implemented the Safeguard proceeding, including the setting up of a new cash pooling scheme to enable intercompany operations and financing flows, and meeting the reporting requirements during the proceeding.

What were the keys to success, from the French side, and how were you instrumental in helping to achieve them?

The key success factor for me is great teamwork, as CGG was a complex organization with more than a hundred subsidiaries. We teamed up with the client’s finance, legal, HR, and operational teams who were amazingly involved in the preparation and implementation work. In such a tense situation, I feel it is important to take time to listen to both the client and the team’s fears, issues and questions, and to take time to help find a solution. The level of expertise of all AlixPartners team members was also key to achieving such a complex process, let it be financial modeling, Safeguard or Chapter 11 preparation, and daily management. We felt that we had one common restructuring culture, and one common goal of helping our client and delivering exceptional results, which made us realize that we are one firm, firm.

As a French woman leading a complex multinational corporate restructuring, what specific challenges did you face?

The biggest challenge was to understand the group structure and daily operations to ensure that they could run normally after the proceedings opening. We also had to manage adversarial requirements from both proceedings, which can give very different roles to creditors. As an example, Safeguard proceeding prevents payment of any interest on loans, whereas in Chapter 11, it is usual to have the interest paid under the cash protection rules. How to manage this dynamic was a challenge we faced.

I did not feel being a woman was a specific issue. Despite long hours of negotiation and difficulties to organize your time in the midst of the storm, there are a lot of women active in restructuring in France. In the CGG case, the Judicial Administrator Helene Bourbouloux and a couple of lawyers were women, very successful in achieving difficult restructurings. This might be because women bring a different view, a more empathic approach to a troubled situation and can discuss tough points more smoothly, thus helping to find a solution.

How was the experience to lead this project with another woman, on the other side of the Atlantic?

The CGG case was the occasion to meet an amazing person and great professional. It also gave me the opportunity to meet a female managing director who is enjoying her job and is a recognized expert. Becky is very inspiring to me. I will gladly sign up for any future cross-border project with her!

Would you consider the restructuring business in France as being a tough business for women and why?

There are quite a few women in the French restructuring business. We often socialize and have become a strong network of professionals. In fact, I believe there are many advantages to being a woman in this business when it comes to negotiating solutions and maintaining relationships built on trust with clients.

With International Women’s Day earlier this month, what advice do you have for women who aspire to achieve leadership status in this specific business?

Be yourself, express your personality as a woman. You will meet incredible, inspiring women who prove every day that success in restructuring is not a gender issue.

Becky Roof, Managing Director, Houston restructuring team

How was the CGG restructuring unique in the US market and what role did you play?

The CGG restructuring was unique because the primary case was filed in France under a process known as a Safeguard Proceeding, which was similar in some ways and very different in other ways from a traditional Chapter 11. For example, in the Safeguard proceeding, a judicial administrator is appointed, and he or she has great influence over the case process. In the US, we have the concept of Debtor-in-Possession, where the company and its counsel and advisors have the most control over the case process. It took a lot of coordination among all the parties to keep tight coordination between what was happening in the French proceeding and what was happening in the Chapter 11 and Chapter 15 proceedings.

I had the honor of leading an outstanding team from the US, focused on providing the support for all the Chapter 11 activities, and co-leading, with Sophie, the coordination of what was happening in France and the United States.

What were the keys to success, from the US side, and how were you instrumental in helping to achieve them?

The key to success for AlixPartners was that we never looked at this as a 2-part engagement – 1 part in France and 1 part in the US. Our team had regular calls to keep us all informed and on the same page. For example, while the team in France was on the ground with the client designing the new cash pooling system, a team from the US was in Paris working with them to design a cash forecasting system that would reflect the new arrangement.

As an American woman leading a complex multinational corporate restructuring, did you face any particular challenges?  

I did not feel challenged as an American woman. There were several women in leadership roles at the client (the judicial administrator was a woman) and there were women in key roles for the company’s legal teams we were working with (Linklaters in the US, France, and the UK, Weil in France, and Paul Weiss in the US). I do think having so many women involved in what were long, tense negotiations brought a different perspective and tenor to the case, which helped the process move along a little more quickly and with a little less rancor.

How was the experience to lead this project with another woman, on the other side of the Atlantic?

Besides meeting a fantastic colleague, Sophie and I have become close friends. Her depth of knowledge about French restructurings is incredible, and she is so well-connected in the French restructuring community that I never had any doubt that we were going to be successful in pulling off this first and novel approach to a French/US cross-border case. We now solicit advice from one another about potential cross-border opportunities for AlixPartners, and talk about career issues, like trying to strike a balance between client delivery and business development. And of course, Sophie can provide great advice about where to shop in Paris!

Would you consider the restructuring business in the United States as being a tough business for women and why?

I think the restructuring business is tough on everyone, and in particular for parents. Our firm reputation is so stellar that it puts a lot of pressure on all of us to always be at the top of our game for our clients; to always exceed expectations. As women, we have come such a long way that we are afraid to slow down or let each other down. In the US, the restructuring community has several prominent women in leadership roles, and we are careful to look out for each other, which is a huge help.

With International Women’s Day earlier this month, what advice do you have for women who aspire to achieve leadership status in this specific business?

Always stay true to yourself; don’t try to be something you aren’t. You might pull it off for a little while, but you won’t sustain it indefinitely. And find not just a mentor, but a group of friends that you can trust to share issues with, seek advice from, and not just know that they have your back, but that you have theirs too.