Emma Hermann

Emma Hermann

General Counsel at Joules

Talks about her career, the company's IPO and why brand protection is such a huge part of her job

Emma, firstly – can you tell us a bit about your career to date?
I trained with DLA Piper in Birmingham and qualified into their commercial and IP team in 2006. I remained at DLA for five years after qualification and then made the move in-house to Joules as their sole in-house counsel. I’m just about to celebrate my five year anniversary at Joules, during which time I’ve seen the business grow incredibly rapidly - from being a privately owned company, through private equity investment and now to being publicly owned since our recent IPO.

What made you switch from Private Practice?
During my time at DLA Piper I was lucky enough to go on three different client secondments, which I really enjoyed. I realised that I preferred being involved in the day to day operations of a business, getting to know its inner workings and seeing projects through from start to finish, rather than dipping in and out, which is often the case with private practice work.

For me, it was about waiting for the right in-house opportunity to come up with a business which I was genuinely interested in and where I would be able to make a real difference. When I heard about the role at Joules I knew it would be a great move – joining what was then a relatively small retailer, with great brand DNA on a very fast growth curve. The chance to work in the beautiful market town of Market Harborough was also a big bonus.

Would you ever go back?
I would never say never, but having worked in such a fun and dynamic place as Joules for the last five years, I think going back into the very corporate environment of a law firm would be a bit of a culture shock. However there are some things about private practice I do miss, not least having a secretary, 24 hour document production team, and all the other support functions working seamlessly in the background at a law firm, which you don’t really appreciate until they aren’t there anymore.

How long have you been with Joules and what does your role entail?
I’ve been with Joules for five years. My main workload involves drafting and advising on commercial contracts and dealing with intellectual property and brand protection matters. I also manage the compliance function, advise on marketing events and promotions and support the HR and property teams, although we do outsource most of our property work.

Joules is a true multi-channel retailer which began around 30 years ago when Tom Joule began selling products on the country shows and events circuits, and then evolved to capture wholesale, retail, e-commerce and licensing. All these five channels are still very important to the business and we currently have 100 stores across the UK, hundreds of wholesale accounts, three websites and a fast growing international business. Since we listed on AIM in May 2016 there is also now the additional workload which comes with being a listed company. As a result there is always plenty to keep me busy!

The much publicised IPO happened in May so how involved were you in that?
I was part of the core project team and was heavily involved, mainly in managing the legal due diligence process, in reviewing many of the key legal documents and being the key point of contact for the Eversheds team advising us on the IPO. It was a really fascinating process to be involved with.

What were the biggest issues during the run up to it and what did you most enjoy?
As a legal team of one throughout most of the process, time management was the biggest issue as I was juggling my usual daily workload alongside the additional IPO workload. As a result there were quite a few late nights and weekends working. From a personal perspective, I had just returned from maternity leave when the IPO process kicked off, so it was a baptism of fire for my return to work as a new mum. Thankfully I have a very supportive husband!

I really enjoyed working as part of a team with the lawyers in Eversheds’ Birmingham office who were advising us on the IPO. Being sole in-house counsel it can get a little lonely at times, and I do miss the camaraderie of working with a team of other lawyers.

Brand protection must be another issue that you face all the time. What are the key challenges?
Joules prides itself on its creativity and invests heavily in design to ensure our products are unique. We have a team of print designers who hand draw all of the prints which appear on our products, and a design team developing new ranges, all based at our offices in Market Harborough. As a result our product is really special, but this does mean that we find other retailers often seeking to take advantage of our creativity. We monitor the marketplace and take action where necessary to protect the brand and our designs.

As a result of becoming a bigger and better known brand, we have also become more of a target for counterfeiters. We have put in place an external brand protection agency to provide continuous monitoring of the marketplace, both in the UK and internationally, and have taken action via Trading Standards in the UK. We take brand protection extremely seriously and by putting in place measures at an early stage in our international growth we are confident we can contain the problem without it escalating as it has for so many other brands.

Are there plans to grow the legal team?
I’ve actually just recruited my first assistant into the legal team, through BCL Legal, which is fantastic. She is picking up a lot of the day to day contractual work, freeing me up to focus more on IP, compliance and our new obligations as a Plc. As the business grows I’m hopeful the legal team will grow in tandem.

What’s next for the company?
As well as the continued focus in the UK, the two areas we are really looking to build on are continuing our international growth, and product extension. We’re already seeing some great results in the US and Germany so we need to keep building on that success. We now have sales teams and showrooms based in New York and Dusseldorf so we are well placed. Product extension is also a key area of growth, whether it be bedding, stationery, eyewear, or kitchenware, our customers love any product with our prints on it, so looking into how best we manage that, and ensuring we are delivering a product the customer loves is really important.

On a more personal note, what is the best thing about your job?
I love the variety of working at Joules, no two days are the same. My job involves working with virtually every team across the business and the people are lovely. Being surrounded by colour and creativity on a daily basis is inspiring. There is always a bit of a thrill in seeing a product you have advised on appearing in the shops for the first time. The staff discount is a pretty great perk too!

What has been the greatest achievement in your profession to date?
Attending the opening ceremony at the London Stock Exchange on the day of the IPO was thrilling, great to see months of hard work come to fruition.

What would you have been if you weren’t a lawyer?
I did a Science degree and always thought I’d end up doing something working with animals. My career took a slightly unexpected turn when I decided to go into law, but I have adopted some rescue battery hens and a retired greyhound to fill my free time with animals instead!