Chris Owen

Chris Owen

Group General Counsel at North Group

Chris Owen is in this month’s Day in the Life column

Based in Newcastle upon Tyne, North is one of the world’s leading P&I clubs. Along with the other International Group clubs we support global trade through providing third-party indemnity insurance, legal costs insurance and loss prevention services to around 95% of the world’s ocean going tonnage.

As a mutual company, with a history spanning more than 150 years, our fundamental purpose is to support our ship owner members. The service we deliver is much broader than that of a mainstream commercial insurance company and our internal service ethos is best summarised as being “an extension of our member’s office”.

North’s highly skilled workforce offers an impressive breadth and depth of knowledge and experience in shipping and maritime affairs, and which incorporates a large number of lawyers and ex-mariners, many of whom are leading experts in their field. The majority of staff are based at our Newcastle head office but we also have a network of overseas offices in Greece, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and China to ensure that we can deliver a high level of service to our global membership base 24/7/365.

North offers lawyers a diverse range of interesting and challenging career opportunities in our claims, risk, compliance, corporate governance and in-house legal functions, many of which are quite different to those typically on offer in a private practice or in-house environment. A number of our underwriters also originally come from a legal background.

In my role as Group General Counsel I manage North’s corporate governance and in-house legal function. When I joined North in 2011 the regulatory and strategic landscape was changing and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to build the team at a time when there was growing demand for in-house legal and governance support.

I live in Newcastle and my day starts between 6 and 7am. In a semi-conscious state I quickly get ready, fix myself an omelette for breakfast and then spend 30 minutes or so catching up on the news, checking emails and watching YouTube videos. This is often the only good quality ‘downtime’ I get during the day (more on why later), so I try to make the most of it. I like watching film reviews - particularly ones containing some element of analysis and humour, like the Earthling Cinema series where an alien explains the hidden meaning of popular films! Before leaving, I say a quick goodbye to my wife - who is usually half asleep after a late finish working at our restaurant - Lost and Found, which opened in mid-June.

During my 20 minute commute to the office I check my emails, calendar and plan my priorities for the day ahead. One of the features that I particularly enjoy about my role is the varied nature of the workload. There is always a steady stream of routine company and commercial work to deal with, but there is also an element of unpredictability about what else might come in during the day. A lot of my time is currently focussed on managing an internal group reorganisation as well as managing our Brexit contingency planning activities.

My role has also expanded beyond a purely legal remit to include a range of business development activities. I work with the Board and senior management team to develop the Club’s strategy and participate in the steering group looking at our leadership training and development programme.

I usually leave the office between 6.30 and 7pm, apart from Mondays where I’ve recently started leaving slightly earlier to attend a gym session with my personal trainer, who happens to be an old school friend. I’ve never been a very sporty person so I find it’s a good way to make sure I get some regular exercise.

After returning home I try to spend some quality time with my wife over dinner and catch up on how things are going at the restaurant. I then begin the process of slowly psyching myself up to hit the books and study for my MBA at Durham University. I’m approaching the end of the second year of a three year part time distance learning course.

It’s quite a challenge to meet the demands of the course on top of a full time job, but I’m really enjoying the experience and getting a lot out of it. If I can get one to two hours of study done on a week day then I consider that a win. Everything else gets done over the weekend.