Lindsay Beardsell – general counsel at Supergroup...
Lindsay, firstly – can you tell us a bit about your career to date?
I studied European Law which was supposed to lead me to Brussels. However, the City proved to be too appealing and I took a role at Freshfields. I enjoyed my time there and worked with some great people, but knew I wanted to be closer to the businesses that I was working with. I was lucky enough to be offered a role with British Gas which was my first step into the in-house world. I was then promoted to Centrica’s HQ team where I helped to manage cross group commercial and corporate work.
Centrica was a great learning experience, but we made the decision to leave London and move to Cheshire for personal reasons. My first role in the North West was at United Utilities where I was approached by Renold plc which is a global engineering company. I went in as general counsel at an exciting time for the businesses as the Board had recently changed. It was a real ‘step up’ point in my career. My final position before joining Supergroup was at Gazprom Energy which was an incredibly interesting environment where I established an integrated legal and regulatory affairs function with some great advisers.
You’re Group General Counsel at Supergroup; how long have you been with the business and what does your role entail?
I joined Supergroup in August 2013. They were looking for someone to bring the legal function together and integrate Company Secretariat and Brand Protection as part of the team. When I got the call, I jumped at the chance of meeting with them. It was an amazing opportunity and one that I couldn’t turn down. It’s certainly been a learning curve as I had to hit the ground running, but I’ve now got a feel for the business so things are being implemented and driven forward every single day.
International growth has been a key strategy so what have been the main legal challenges that you’ve faced and are facing?
The biggest challenge is really the number of opportunities that present themselves to us on a daily basis and how we pick and choose them. We are still a growth business, which keeps it exciting, but it’s a sector encompassing everything from retail to e-commerce so there is a huge amount of scope to cover. We don’t have unlimited resources in the team, so making sure we have the right people with the right skill set is key.
How difficult is it operating in different jurisdictions and do you source additional local legal support in each country?
Every new territory has its own set of challenges which means it’s vital that we have the best advisors in place overseas. I tap into our existing support network, but I also make sure that I have the top contacts in similar businesses to ours who I can learn from and – I’d hope - vice-versa. Being able to share experiences, insight and knowledge is invaluable in any sector.
Brand protection must be another issue you face all the time so what are the key challenges?
The issues around global reach are a growing problem for everyone – especially when it comes to counterfeiting. Our Brand Protection team comes under my remit so we’re working hard to tackle the problems out there. It’s a complex task that involves us trying to shut down rogue manufacturers, monitoring our own suppliers, doing daily online searches and visiting markets in the UK and across Europe.
It goes without saying that, as the brand gets bigger, the counterfeiting problem gets bigger too; you just need to look at the established names which have all set a precedent. You could be flattered, but damage to the brand can’t be tolerated. You can never stop it entirely, but it’s vital to use every legal option available to us and it’s something we take very seriously.
Supergroup has been through a period of rapid growth and expansion so what’s next for the company?
Two fold - we’ll be working to maintain our position in our current markets and driving international growth. We have a product that has appeal and loyalty so it’s about targeting those markets where we have a core customer base. We work hard to ensure our product development remains exciting and edgy.
On a more personal note, what is the best thing about your job?
The variety it brings and being part of something really exciting are what drive me. I sit on the executive management team and therefore play a part in our strategy and growth planning. That’s not always the case for other GCs as the role is often simply advisory. Away from the actual work I do, we’re based just outside Cheltenham which is a beautiful area in which to both live and work.
What has been the greatest achievement in your profession to date?
That’s a difficult one as I’ve had lots of exciting opportunities during my career which I’ve grabbed with both hands. However, I always get a buzz when someone in the business comes to me for advice when they know I probably won’t give them the answer they want to hear. I thrive off that kind of effective and honest engagement as ‘Legal’ shouldn’t be an isolated part of a company’s structure.
What would you have been if you weren’t a lawyer?
Something creative: my husband works for the BBC making TV programmes so I think it would be a job along those lines. Not that I would be very good at it of course!