For Julian Blanchard, the passion for the ocean is one that has segued into his life in law – but not altogether seamlessly. He is the general counsel for iconic Australian surfwear brand Billabong, but as a university student Blanchard threw up his hands and quit his legal degree.
“I did pretty well at school, mainly in science subjects, but I didn’t want to be a medical doctor. I can’t stand blood,” he says. The law was being pitched as a degree that was suited to people who did well in both science and English-based studies and the arts background appealed to him.
“I did six months and hated it. I dropped out and went and did some other stuff, then came back to it a couple of years later.”
So what did that “other stuff” consist of?
After graduating from Adelaide University his first job was with a small litigation firm, because Blanchard had anticipated a career as a barrister. However, it turned out that “was not where my natural flair was, so I left”.
After a couple of months surfing in Indonesia, he returned to work with Finlaysons in Adelaide, where he practised corporate law and tutored part-time.
At 32 he decided to become an academic. He completed a PhD in Governance over six years. His principal subject was corporate law and the fruit of his toils was a book on the information needs of shareholders.
Afterwards, it was time to move back to practise, and this time he landed in Sydney and took up a role with Atanaskovic Hartnell.
There for a year, he practised mostly corporate M&A before heading to Allens Arthur Robinson for more M&A and capital markets work. “The last deal I worked on there was the acquisition of Clipsal by French company Schneider Electric. They wanted an in-house lawyer in Australia; it suited them and it suited me, so I went there for two years.”
Blanchard says it was the greater variety of work and the ability to actually make the decisions rather than just offer advice that seduced him to the in-house world. “I knew straight away that I had made the right move.”
And then, almost three years ago, Blanchard was offered what he says is the perfect job for him in Australia.
“Billabong had advertised for a general counsel back in 2000 and I got onto the shortlist. But they decided not to appoint anyone. Then this role came up. This is my perfect role in Australia really.
“It’s the perfect combination because I have got the high-quality legal work and the high-level work, but it does draw on my 30-year passion for surfing.”
Working as the general counsel of an ASX top 100 company, Blanchard has the rare distinction of heading to the office in jeans and a T-shirt. “Everyone is pretty relaxed and there is a lot of great imagery on the walls,” he says. “But besides that, I am working as hard as ever.
“Over the last 12 months I have had 14 active M&A files, I have to maintain a network of distribution agreements, manage a portfolio of 1700 trademarks, as well as athlete contracts and the other day-to-day commercial and litigation matters.”
Blanchard says that, like other professionals, he generally only has time to indulge his passion at the edges of his life. But the bonus is that after closing a deal in one of Billabong’s offices, Blanchard can head out and surf one of the world’s best waves
Despite this, he still rates the best part of his job as the variety of work and the challenges inherent in it. “I really do enjoy taking the decisions and being close to the consequences of your advice,” he says. “We have been fairly acquisitive and I have been a key player in that growth strategy.”
Recent acquisitions included US-based wetsuit and technical watersport accessories brand Xcel, snow and surf accessories company DaKine Hawaii, US skateboard company Sector 9, Florida-based surf and skate gear retailer Quiet Flight and Australian girls’ brand Tigerlily. He just hired a junior lawyer, and the intellectual property team also recently grew from two to three.
In the morning, Blanchard surfs, but at the end of a long day dealing with contracts and acquisitions and distribution agreements, he goes home to his wife and two sons, aged three and a half and one and a half.
He thinks its only a matter of time before he has the eldest out on the beach trying to catch his first wave. And it is easy to predict that Dad will be a great teacher.
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