Stephanie Beat

Stephanie Beat

Head of Legal at JLA

Stephanie spent the first five years of her career in private practice, first with Pinsent Masons then with Eversheds. Prior to joining JLA she spent nine years in-house at the home retail giant N Brown

Stephanie Beat joined JLA in July 2016 as the company’s first in-house counsel. JLA is one of the UK’s leading providers of commercial laundry, catering, heating and fire safety solutions.

Stephanie qualified in 2002 and spent the first five years of her career in private practice, first with Pinsent Masons then with Eversheds. Prior to joining JLA she spent nine years in-house at the home retail giant N Brown.

JLA was established in West Yorkshire in 1973 as a family-run business specialising in commercial washing machines. It is now a trusted partner to more than 25,000 businesses across the UK and Ireland and employs approximately 900 people.

The company still has its base in the West Yorkshire village of Ripponden and also operates a contact centre in Manchester. JLA’s group companies are strategically located throughout Britain, from Glasgow to Woking.

The Brief asked Stephanie to describe a typical day in her working life. This is what she told us:

I joined JLA as Head of Legal about a year before the sale of the business from private equity firm Hg to Cinven. I have to say I completely underestimated the wealth of opportunity that would be available to the business, and to me personally, over the next three years.

The business has grown dramatically both organically and through acquisition over the last decade and, as we are now at the end of our first year in the new investment cycle, we are currently going through a hugely exciting period of change.

At JLA the pace is fast: an idea can go from inception to full-blown delivery at lightning speed. The legal team is now two-strong and soon to be expanding further to manage our ever-increasing workload.

Finally, I wave them off at the school gates before making the picturesque drive over the Saddleworth hills and into Ripponden.

Aligning priorities

To be truly effective the legal team has to be aligned to the priorities of the Executive and Senior Leadership teams and have a clear understanding of business strategy and direction. I have worked really hard to build a legal function that operates as a true business partner across the organisation and am pleased to say the legal team is engaged positively by all areas of the business and not just seen as a port of call because they have to tick the “reviewed by legal” box.

I think it also helps to be genuinely interested in seeing how other areas of the business operate and what their pressures and drivers are. A day spent travelling to customer appointments with an Area Sales Manager (ASM) completely opened my eyes not only to looking at our products and services through the customer lens but also from the perspective of the ASM.

Understanding your internal client is key to becoming an invaluable in-house legal adviser. It differentiates you from even the very best and most commercially minded private practice lawyer.

Show and Tell

Because of my dream commute of 30 minutes (35 if I get stuck behind a tractor) I am extremely, ahem, lucky to be able to enjoy the entire morning routine with my two children, aged nine and five. This usually involves chivvying them out of bed and downstairs for breakfast, locating lost shoes and PE kit, practising spellings and times tables, and inventing interesting “Show and Tell” stories while brushing our teeth.

Finally, I wave them off at the school gates before making the picturesque drive over the Saddleworth hills and into Ripponden.

Building for the future

We are an incredibly busy legal team working on a wide of variety of matters including drafting terms and conditions and contract documents for many of our new propositions and service offerings, negotiating contracts with suppliers who are supporting our digital transformation, assisting the Customer Success Team with escalated customer complaints, and supporting our bids and tender team and sales force to win new business every day.

I also act as Board secretary and lead on many governance projects and initiatives such as our ESG (environmental, social and governance) programme and strategic risk Board. In a business growing as fast as JLA you always need to be thinking ahead and evolving: processes and policies that might have been effective in a family-run company of 60 people won’t be fit for purpose in a national company of 900, and especially not in the international business we aspire to become.

We have a very active mergers and acquisitions team who are currently averaging a new acquisition every month. Most days will, therefore, involve some sort of interaction with our external M&A lawyers, a new target business or conducting due diligence.

It is hugely exciting to be bringing so many new businesses into the JLA family. The legal team plays a key part not only in the acquisition process but also in the on-boarding activity that follows to ensure new businesses fully buy into the JLA process and policies, and are given a level of legal support they may never have experienced before.

Upping the pace

I am fortunate that the culture at JLA is supportive of a healthy work-life balance and we have an on-site gym with free fitness classes on offer. A small group of us will also make an effort to get out for a lunchtime run at least once or twice a week where, within five minutes of the office (and, admittedly, a massive hill climb), we can be running along the ridges of the Calder Valley.

I am a fan of a good “to-do” list and take great satisfaction in ticking things off but I have to admit some weeks it feels as though the only thing that gets crossed off is the date at the top. There is a real need to be agile and responsive and to switch priorities to support changing business needs.

A recent example of this arose when JLA developed a brand-new proposition for the fire safety sector that we wanted to introduce quickly. We had to shift our priorities for the week entirely to make this happen, getting contracts in order, dealing with our insurers and making sure everything was ready for launch as quickly as possible.

I’ll usually be one of the last in the office which, to be honest, I don’t mind. The end of the day is probably the most productive time for me to be able to be able to take stock, catch up on emails and actually carry out some actions.

I can then set off home with a clear head to enjoy story time with my children and catch up on all of their news.