How did you come to be GC of Vodafone Australia and what advice can you offer to aspiring in-house lawyers?
I spent the last 16 years working in-house for Australian and UK mobile companies, and for Salesforce.com, a US provider of cloud-based CRM services. The GC role at Vodafone Australia became available at a time when I had the right mix of skills and experience to take on the role.
I worked for business units that were well funded but in start-up mode and the legal counsel needed to be hands on. In developing these completely new business models, the lawyers did a lot of work that was not strictly providing legal services. That level of exposure to the wider business helped me understand the basics. Choosing to do an MBA early in my career was also really beneficial.
The GC focuses on strategic issues and projects and helps solve business problems, so building the right skills is important. My advice is to take on projects, seek out experience in different areas of the legal team or the business (and globally if you can), find mentors and learn from them, manage a team, consider doing extra study and be solution-oriented. Your employers will remember you for being pragmatic and getting things done, and that reputation will follow you.
The role of a GC can be diverse and multifaceted. In light of the James Hardie decision, how does your GC role fit in within the business?
At Vodafone Australia the GC reports to the CEO, runs the legal function and advises the executive team on legal risks. The company secretary role is separate.
The challenge for all in-house lawyers is to find a balance between remaining independent and providing advice that is in the commercial interests of your employer. Fortunately, I don’t have to consider ethical issues often, but you need to be on the lookout and make sure you take the proper steps to protect the company and your position when they arise.
What do you consider to be the main challenges in your industry sector for the year ahead?
Mobile services are always evolving and the demand for mobile data services is growing exponentially. For mobile operators, a key challenge is building and evolving the network infrastructure ahead of customer demand. For us, that means continued focus on the 4G network rollout while we add to the huge network expansion of our 3G and 3G+ networks.
Data charges were an issue across the industry last year, driven by prolific growth in the use of smartphones. The challenge is to keep innovating so we do the right thing by our customers as we see changes in usage. Mobile operators are focused on this now and Vodafone will concentrate on developing new fair pricing as well as providing tools to help our customers manage spend.
Competition and regulatory issues are a constant in the mobile industry and will continue to be so in 2014 and beyond. The NBN also comes with a host of strategic and regulatory issues for all telecommunications operators.
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