Swati Paul is in this month’s Day in the Life column
Most people associate airports with trips to sunny destinations. Not me. I go to London Luton Airport to work and my office is opposite the terminal. It took me time to get used to having to go to an airport without the benefit of going on holiday!
London Luton Airport is a rapidly growing, highly commercial business. It offers flights to over 130 destinations across Europe, Asia and Africa. When I joined in 2015 there were 12.5 million annual passengers. In 2017 we are rapidly approaching 16 million passengers, which is way ahead of our forecasts. It is a fascinating place to work as it is like a small city with its own fire service, police force, chaplaincy and shopping centre. We also have contracts with a complex matrix of businesses including airlines, aviation service providers, transport providers, cleaning companies and retailers.
There is also the difficult and responsible job of keeping planes and people in the sky safely. We are in the process of investing over £150million digging much of the airport up and replacing it. In time it will be a better airport for our passengers and business partners. Once this project is finished, the local authority will be investing some £200million in DART (Direct Air to Rail Transit) - a light rail system connecting the train station to the airport. This will improve connectivity.
I have been GC of the airport since April 2015. I was originally the sole in-house lawyer but now I have another lawyer working with me. I'm also a member of the board and of the senior management team. As such I am responsible for all the legal work in the airport which covers the whole spectrum including commercial law, corporate governance, construction, capital projects, procurement, operational matters and the management of disputes. As you can imagine, I also need to rely on external advisers owing to the sheer volume of work.
My day starts at 6am when I pop to the kitchen to assemble my lunch. I then check my work iPhone for my meetings schedule and emails which have come in overnight. This is followed by a shower and if I'm being good, a yoga session. After breakfast I poke youngest teenager awake and then jump in my car to drive up the M1 to the airport. As I'm counter commuting, the journey is usually smooth.
My day varies depending on meeting schedules, but also the best laid plans can be exploded by calls from directors and shareholders which usually take precedence over all other work. On occasion, I have to visit the majority shareholder Aena, which is based in Madrid, and I also need to attend board meetings held in London at the other shareholder's offices, Ardian. At lunchtime I eat at my desk and I walk around all parts of the airport every week. Things are being moved around the site (such as retail units) as a result of construction. It is useful to see where they have been moved to, so I can address any legal issues when they arise.
My background is that I am a commercial lawyer with experience in construction and procurement. This proves very handy when dealing with the day-to-day challenges and issues arising at the airport. I am also a trained mediator and I occasionally have had to use these skills in resolving potential disputes at early stages. My weeks vary depending on whether I am involved in any large projects or whether any urgent matters arise. The stakeholder map is complicated as not only are there international shareholders, but there is a concession contract with the local authority, Luton Borough Council who is also our landlord.
Lawyers are usually in "the shadows" but I recently won the Law Society Excellence Award (Solicitor of the Year In-house) for my work on an innovative structure to deliver services to our airline partners. This is by way of a pioneering shared equipment deal for aviation services which will also benefit passengers. This has attracted considerable interest as a model for improving services in airports internationally. It has meant interviews and liaison with the Law Society. This was very well received by the shareholders and airport management. I was applauded in both management and board meetings - a highly unusual occurrence!
I generally try to leave on time but usually check emails again in the evening. My evenings involve feeding hungry teenagers, supervising homework and Netflix.