We speak to Imraan Patel about working in-house at EG Group
Imraan, can you please summarise your career path to date?
My working life started stacking shelves at a supermarket whilst I was at college and university, followed by a stint selling holidays at a travel agent during a year out post-LPC but pre-training contract. However, my legal career started with BT at its HQ in the City of London.
I was amongst the early adopters of an in-house training contract and I was seconded to Ashurst as part of that. After qualifying I was offered a position in what was the Major Deals & Projects Team at BT Global Services. I can honestly say that the work I did and the people I worked there with have played the biggest part in shaping my professional career; it is not by luck that many from that team are now distinguished General Counsel in their own right or have moved into other prestigious executive positions.
Orange Business Services (France Telecom) called a few years later with an offer that I could not refuse. I spent almost 10 years at Orange Group in different roles before I was introduced to EG to develop the legal and compliance function here and to help take the business into international markets. My career has taken me around the World; I’ve spent time across Australasia, EMEA and the US working on some phenomenal projects, and now Blackburn! I’ve lost count of the number of air miles I’ve flown. I even used to keep used tickets back in the day when the airlines issued paper tickets - I think I stopped when I got to about 500.
What kind of work do you undertake at EG Group?
As Group General Counsel I cover all areas of legal practice with a particular focus on M&A and commercial work but, beyond that, I find myself tackling matters that traditionally wouldn’t be handled by a legal & compliance function. I am frequently called upon to give strategic guidance on IT matters and complex procurement. In parallel, I have a growing multi-jurisdictional team and making sure they have the support they need is an important component of my role.
What’s the most enjoyable thing about your current role?
Over the past few years, I have been part of an incredible journey that EG Group (then Euro Garages) has been on. It has grown from being a single country/330 site operator to one that has operations across nine countries, including the USA and Australia, in just over two years. We have invested many billions to fuel that growth and I have thoroughly enjoyed negotiating each of those deals. Though we count more than 30,000 colleagues in the business today, we have maintained a ‘small business’ type environment at HQ. There are no closed doors; in fact, nobody, including the founding CEOs, has their own office. I also enjoy going into the office each morning knowing that, I really can make a difference to the business, people and communities around me. Away from work, I sit as a non-executive director and trustee at one of the country’s leading multi-academy education trusts; the freedoms my position at EG Group gives me allows me to play a part in influencing career outcomes of today’s young people. That is the most satisfying.
What made you choose in-house rather than private practice?
After my stint with Ashurst and my regular interactions with counsel in private practice whilst in-house, it became very clear to me that I preferred the in-house environment. Rather than being a ‘specialist’ in a focussed practice area, I enjoy having the freedom of being able to get the job done whether that is a complex acquisition or a small IP matter. Despite perceptions to the contrary, working in-house is certainly not the ’easy’ option – or at least not in the businesses I have worked in.
Have you ever thought about moving to a private practice firm?
It has crossed my mind and I keep my options open. However, for now, I feel in-house is where I enjoy myself and my work the most.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of a career in-house?
The in-house environment is a culture that suits a specific type of person. I was once told that when working in-house; remember that your client is always there. There really is nowhere to hide. I have come across a number of lawyers working in-house who struggle to grasp that they can make calculated commercial decisions for the business themselves; for those types of people, I feel that private practice would be a better option.
Also, having a mentor is critical - whether in private practice or in-house. I believe that having someone who one can pick up the phone to, and who will share their knowledge and be a critical friend, is invaluable. They don’t necessarily need to be a lawyer but just someone who understands the intricacies of working in corporate environments.
What four words best sum you up as a lawyer?
In no particular order: Ambitious. Perceptive. Pragmatic. Fair.
Finally, who has been your biggest career inspiration and why?
Although a little philosophical... I find inspiration from everywhere. But most importantly, I have learnt to believe in myself. A gift my wife once bought me was Paolo Coelho’s “The Alchemist”, much of the parable in that book resonates with me: there is some essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, learning to read the omens strewn along life's path, and, above all, following our dreams! I still remember my careers advisor at secondary school in Preston telling me I was best suited for an admin assistant role! I didn’t listen to her, thankfully!