After 15 years, it’s not easy to leave somewhere. Especially when that “somewhere” is stuffed full of some of the best people around.
I started at Wragge & Co in 2001 and it has been a fabulous place to have a career. During that time, the firm has transformed via both organic growth and merger. Wragge & Co became Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co a few years ago through its merger with Lawrence Graham. The enlarged firm recently merged with the Canadian law firm Gowlings to create Gowling WLG, a 1400 lawyer firm in 18 places around the world.
And today is my last day in that newly minted firm – I am joining EY (Ernst & Young) in April to head up Tech Law in the UK & Ireland. I felt that I should mark the moment in a traditional way (beer – that’s to come) and a slightly more modern approach (a blog entry).
My journey with Wragges started in 1995 when I quite randomly took some advice from a Wragge partner (Paul Howard, who would become our general counsel) not to do a law degree. He told me that my preferred option (Maths with Business) would actually lay a great foundation for the future. That set me on a path where I met my wife and also the co-founder of my first music business (I have run a few over the years) when we were all studying in Manchester.
Looking at my options halfway through my Maths degree, I toyed with a series of career choices and I applied for work experience at Wragge & Co. During the fortnight placement I had one of my few career “light bulb” moments – the place struck a chord with me and I just knew that it was somewhere that I could thrive. I couldn’t have been more right.
After an amazing 18 months training in the firm, I went on secondment to 3i (the biggest European investor at that time). I got a taste for investment work (venture capital and private equity), particularly in Tech and science heavy environments. More importantly, I was bitten by the “deal bug”. Corporate finance is a slightly odd career in that it’s all famine and feast: work can come in ridiculous waves of intensity followed by relatively fallow periods. Many people hate the inconsistency (and some of the behaviours associated with the character types that can be drawn to the area) but I loved it: the boardroom access, the intersection of strategy and law along with the cut/thrust of actually getting a deal across the line.
I developed into bigger ticket, cross-border mergers and acquisitions technology work with a particular focus on the US. When I was 4 years in, I made my first trip to the US with one of the many mentors that I have had (David Vaughan) and I soon got involved with US sales strategy for the firm alongside another longstanding mentor (our senior partner at the time, Quentin Poole).
“Sales” is a bit of a dirty word in the profession; traditional thinking goes that word of mouth and pure quality should be enough to keep work walking in through the doors. But I have always loved it – I think about sales as: speaking to people that have problems (legal or otherwise) and then figuring out the best way to help them. Building longstanding relationships of trust and then becoming an extension of a team for day-to-day issues and for when they go through periods of transformation.
I have now been travelling very regularly to NYC, Boston and Silicon Valley for close to 10 years now. It was my experience of those Tech ecosystems (NYC in particular) that encouraged me to go “all in” on Tech in the UK. I co-founded our Tech group in 2010 with Alex Brodie (an IP litigation partner and great friend) and brought some of the US thinking back to the UK. Lawyers get to see the whole ecosystem – investors, start-ups, big corporates, institutions and intermediaries – we bring those groups together through monthly big events and CEO dinners. We also started a series of accelerators and launched a Tech start-up platform (Jumpstart).
It’s been brilliant to grow the Tech group (today, it includes 250 lawyers around the world) and whilst I have really enjoyed the highs (such as being included in the inaugural FinTech40 or being part of the teams that sold Buddy Media to salesforce.com for $700m or Liverail to Facebook for $500m), actually the day-to-day working with companies as their trusted advisor (and working with amazing colleagues to help develop each other) are the things that will stay with me forever.
There have been too many people that have supported, coached and mentored me to possibly name every single one (and please forgive me if I have left anyone out) but I would call out Duncan Murphy in particular for all of the support he has given me.
And now to the future – EY have asked me to build out a Tech Law team as part of their global integrated offering to the Tech market(s). It’s an enormously exciting opportunity to work with a truly global business employing over 200k people and with close to $30Bn in annual revenues. They are investing in Law heavily and are not far from being in 80 countries with over 1,500 lawyers. But the most exciting prospect is being part of a multi-disciplinary team helping Tech clients of all sizes around the World.