A winning bet
26 July 2010
General counsel Dominic Bacon thrives on the challenge of building up legal teams from scratch. Andrew Pugh discovers that Bacon’s positive, hands-on approach is highly valued at WorldSpreads
Few lawyers are as seasoned as Dominic Bacon when it comes to setting up in-house legal teams. When he joined spread-betting company WorldSpreads earlier this year, it was the third time he had been tasked with building up a legal function, having undertaken similar projects at Gulf International and CMC Markets.
Earlier this year he left CMC to join WorldSpreads as its first-ever general counsel and group head of compliance. For Bacon, it was another chance to shape a legal team in his own image.
“I like the challenge of it and being able to put your imprint on the make-up of the function, especially as historically legal and compliance functions have been very much back office,” he explains. “My departments are proactive and help shape the growth from day one as opposed to just responding to issues placed in front of them. If you don’t have the correct infrastructure you’re building on shaky foundations, so you need to spend the time putting in solid foundations. To do that you need to know exactly what the legal, compliance and regulatory risks are in the countries and sectors in which we do business.”
Bacon says he is fortunate to work at a company where legal and compliance is closely involved in decision making at board level and at the coal face of the business. It is a claim often made by general counsels. Few, however, can actually boast a place on the board like Bacon, and it was a big factor in luring him from trading platform CMC.
He was approached by two of the company’s group directors last year, Roger Hynes and Geoff Langham, who he had worked with at CMC. As well as a place on the board, Bacon was also attracted by the firm’s plans for overseas expansion and the fact, unlike many of its competitors, that it was still in growth mode.
The figures certainly back up the claim. WorldSpreads, which was established in 2000 and is publicly listed on AIM, increased turnover by 85 per cent in the 2009-10 financial year to £11.41m, while operating profit saw a meteoric rise of 666 per cent to £2.68m. The company has also opened a spate of offices including Paris, Frankfurt, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Madrid and Kuala Lumpur.
This is why Bacon believes his company could soon be challenging spread-betting giants such as IG Index.
“We shouldn’t really be on the radar of IG but the fact that three of us joined from CMC means we are,” he says. “And because we’re smaller and much more nimble, we can focus on giving clients what they want. The plan is certainly to grow but we want to grow in a way that’s sustainable and to focus on doing what we do well. It’s not about saying, ’we want to be the biggest’.”
During his time at CMC Bacon oversaw a dramatic expansion of the legal team and undertook a wide-ranging panel review. He is now embarking on similar schemes at WorldSpreads, which has two compliance officers and a secondee from Reed Smith. He plans to bring in two lawyers and a paralegal by the end of the year and is already drawing up plans to formalise the company’s panel arrangements.
Bacon tries to handle as many matters in-house as possible, ranging from regulatory and corporate issues to IP rights and employment.
“That’s why it [the job] requires a particular sort of person. You can be dealing with a regulatory matter at 10am, litigation at 11am and an IP issue at 3pm,” he explains.
While it is a fairly diverse role, Bacon is in little doubt about what aspect of the job he enjoys most.
“Being a geek, I like the regulatory stuff because it’s so fast moving. The FSA [Financial Services Authority] says something new every day, so trying to keep up to date can be difficult. It’s fun but challenging.”
Due to the small size of the legal function Bacon often uses external advisors many of whom he used during his time at CMC, including Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP), Burges Salmon, DLA Piper, Olswang, Reed Smith and Slaughter and May. He is particularly impressed with the client service provided by Reed Smith and BLP.
“What I like is that they send out client briefings but they also give you a call, telling you about how a particular piece of regulation will affect the business. They’re also more than willing to come and sit down with us and they won’t charge. It’s a very customised approach.”
Name: Dominic Bacon
Industry: Financial services
Position: General counsel
Reporting to: Chief executive Conor Foley
Number of employees:90
Main external law firms:Berwin Leighton Paisner, Burgess Salmon,
DLA Piper, Flynn O’Driscoll, Olswang, Reed Smith, Slaughter and May
Annual legal spend:£300,000
Education: 1983-87: LLB, University of Wales
1987: College Of Law, Guildford
Work history: 1989-92: Assistant solicitor, Theodore Goddard
1992-98: Group legal adviser, Standard Chartered Bank
1998-2001: General counsel and head of compliance, Standard Chartered Bank (USA)
2001-02: Senior group legal adviser, Standard Chartered Bank
2002-07: Head of legal and compliance, Gulf International Bank
2007-09: Global head of legal and compliance, CMC Markets
2009-10: Group director, legal, CMC Markets
2010-present: General counsel, group head of compliance and company secretary, WorldSpreads Group