We speak to Natasha Maddock about working in-house at GBG
Natasha, can you please quickly summarise your education and career path to date?
I took quite a traditional route; I went to Lancaster University to study Law and then did my LPC at Nottingham Trent. I thoroughly enjoyed my studying but timed my finishing somewhat brilliantly as it coincided with the start of the recession in 2007/08. However, I was lucky enough to get one of the last training contracts before the freeze. I worked at a regional firm which was great but it was more like an in-house role as I did a lot of work for one client. That gave me a flavour for what it would be like to work in an organisation and it really appealed. After qualifying, I started to get frustrated about how things were managed in a traditional partnership model. At the time, there was a lot of talk around ABSs and how they would deliver legal services in a better and more customer focussed way. I’ve always been quite commercially minded and after doing some research I quickly realised that I wanted to work within in a company or business. My next step was to join Riverview – this was before it became an ABS. I was the first commercial lawyer there and was exposed to some fantastic work and gained some invaluable experience. Over the next few years, I saw first-hand the business coming together and I ended up taking a lead role within the SME team which was, in effect, like working as an in-house counsel for our clients. We each worked with about 10 to 15 businesses – many of them in tech – so it was an exciting field to be in. We also liaised closely with the Chambers side of the firm which gave me even more opportunities to grow and development my remit and knowledge. After a while, Riverview started to change direction slightly and that spurred me on to look for an in-house role. I knew any move had to be right and luckily GBG was recruiting. Once again, I was the first solicitor recruit - the legal work had been previously done by the company secretary and governance team. This was a real draw along with the ability to grow my own team from scratch. I’ve been here for five years and haven’t looked back.
What kind of work do you undertake at GBG?
GBG is an incredibly interesting place to work. We’re a global business and trusted supplier for a large number of FTSE 100 clients and well-known brands. Our products combine technology and data intelligence providing solutions that help our clients validate and verify the identity and location of their customers. The focus is on fraud, risk & compliance, employee screening and customer & location intelligence.
My team’s main job is negotiating contracts. This is a huge task as it can involve everything from reviewing comments on our standard terms to complex master service agreements which allow us to sell multiple solutions under one contract. These agreements can be subject to different governing laws and jurisdictions so it’s never boring. We are also heavily involved in third party supplier contracts, supporting our product and strategy teams to develop market leading and innovative new solutions. In essence, we are a commercial department. GBG has also made a series of acquisitions and although we bring in an external firm for the deals themselves, we - as the legal team - play a big part in the integration process.
What’s the most enjoyable thing about your current role?
The best thing without doubt is helping GBG to achieve its group vision and providing guidance which actually influences business decisions and strategy.
You’ve grown your team quite considerably over the last five years; what was the driving factor for this growth?
When I first joined GBG we had around 250 employees mostly based within the UK but we’ve grown massively since then– both organically and via acquisitions. Today, we stand at 1,000 with offices in Australia, the US, Germany and across South East Asia. The legal team has developed in tandem and we now number 12 with two international lawyers – one is based in Kuala Lumpur and the other in San Francisco. It has been a privilege to support the growth of such an exciting business and the investment in the legal team is testament to the work we do and the faith that the senior leadership team have in the legal department.
In terms of outlook, what market trends do you think will have impact on in-house lawyers in the near future and what’s next for GBG legal?
The single biggest challenge for in-house lawyers and for businesses in 2019 is determining how to navigate and manage political and regulatory risk. We are seeing increasing levels of regulation as well as disruptive factors caused by political and technological change. This creates complexity and uncertainty not just for us but also for our clients and suppliers. It can be tough but it’s also fascinating.
GDPR was a huge challenge for a lot of companies but was integral to the work we do. We did our research and continue to work closely with our privacy team and external lawyers to ensure we’re as informed and prepared as we can be for anything that comes our way… including Brexit. We’re not alone though as every in-house counsel has had to get to grips with these issues. The key thing for us is to always ensure that we have a slick legal process in place so we don’t cause unnecessary friction and to look ahead to ensure we’re ready to be proactive and can adapt our approach as and when required.
Is there anything you miss from private practice?
The only thing I missed when I first moved in-house was my client base and I often wondered how they were doing but truthfully nothing else. For me, this was the right way to go.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of making a similar switch?
Go for it! If you like the idea of working in a commercial environment then in-house will probably be for you. There are challenges – one of the biggest is not having the usual separation between you and the client that is so inherent in private practice. That can be a blessing and curse so be prepared for it. Also, you’ll need to be flexible and pragmatic. Senior stakeholders don’t want legal explanation; they want a solution to a problem.
What four words best sum you up?
Pragmatic. Optimistic. Sociable. Conscientious.
Do you have a motto that you live by in business?
Does it have to be me? By that I mean that’s easy to take on too much but by doing so, you can become a blocker, slowing down the process and stifling innovation. In order to allow and encourage others to develop you have to step back so that your teams have room to take ownership of projects and processes and find their own unique way of doing things.
Finally, who has been your biggest career inspiration and why?
Two spring to mind. Firstly; my manager and mentor, John Constantin. He started here 25 years ago in an admin role but qualified to become group company secretary and has since helped lead GBG to be the listed, multi- national organisation it is today. He’s also always learning and developing both himself and others. He’s inspirational and has been a big part of my career, encouraging me to stretch myself and take on new roles and greater levels of responsibly.
The other is Richard Branson – he’s an inspirational business leader who values his team and places significant emphasis on employee engagement and personal responsibility. I especially like his quote: If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.