3 January 2011 | By James Swift
Intel European head of labour law Richard Devereux’s formidable remit covers overseeing counsel and employees in 37 countries, meaning an ability to adapt has been crucial to his role.
When Richard Devereux, Intel Corporation European labour law counsel, qualified as a lawyer in Ireland 20 years ago he was told by a law professor he had entered a landlocked profession and the best he would be able to do would be a job in London.
Since then Devereux has worked in four countries on three continents: Germany, Japan, the UK and the US. So much for ’landlocked’.
“Working in a global company makes law a transportable business,” says Devereux. “We want our lawyers to have been members of a bar association, but apart from that they can have done whatever, wherever.”
Devereux joined silicon chip maker Intel in 1995. Before that he was in private practice at Arthur Cox in Dublin and then Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in London. But it was clear to him that his interests lay closer to business.
He took a year out to complete an MBA and made up his mind not to return to private practice. After bouncing around a few jobs Devereux landed in Intel’s Swindon office, where its European legal group was based. Back then the company only had around 35,000 employees (it now has 82,000) and Devereux was employed as a generalist.
While he was in the US on a secondment Intel compartmentalised its legal teams and Devereux, whose background was in corporate and litigation, was asked to head the company’s European labour group in Munich.
“I fell into [labour law] by business need more than anything,” he admits.
But then, Intel is not afraid to drag people out of their comfort zones. On a secondment to Tokyo in 2000 Devereux ended up running the company’s HR department for three years.
Back in Munich Devereux is responsible for all labour advice and employee relations issues.
“The hardest part of the job’s dealing with management, employees, and external counsel across 37 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa,” he says. “The geography’s wide and the laws are different, but so are cultures and business practices.
“The job requires a lot of flexibility and the ability to build good business relationships, but at the end of the day business is business and common sense dictates.”
The most awkward jurisdictions, he says, are France, Italy, Belgium and Germany, which have workers’ counsels that have co-determination rights, whereby nobody can be hired or fired without their input.
“Russia is also proscriptive,” says Devereux, “and Japan’s difficult too. They have the concept of lifetime employment and the laws reflect that. There’s a big difference between Japanese and foreign companies, but in some cases there can be an egalitarian attitude whereby people can do a terrible job but still expect a pay rise. It’s changing though.”
As a labour law attorney, Devereux was involved with the layoffs at the company in the wake of the crash.
“Our side of the business definitely got busier in the downturn,” says Devereux. “Retrenching wasn’t pleasant and I was heavily involved in that - mostly with compensation and benefits issues. Intel went from 105,000 to 82,000 employees. But we were in good company - all the big corporations had to do it.”
Now Intel seems to be rebuilding. The company acquired security technology specialist McAfee in August, adding 6,000 staff, and will acquire Infineon’s wireless business in the New Year, which should mean around 3,600 new faces.
This growth comes as Intel moves from a horizontal to a vertical-stack model. The company, according to Devereux, wants to be in every aspect of computer-making, not just chips.
It is even trying to break into the smartphone space. However, Intel will still refrain from selling directly to consumers - a lifelong tenet of the company.
Another tenet is to avoid exclusive relationships with suppliers. Devereux also adopts this approach when it comes to outside counsel.
“In countries where we do a substantial amount of work, we think we get a better service by running a dual-firm approach rather than having an exclusive relationship,” he argues. “For example, in the UK we deal with Lewis Silkin and Doyle Clayton. In Ireland it’s Mason Hayes & Curran and Eversheds.
“Our outside panel is well-defined and tends to be more relationship-based. We don’t need the resources of a big firm, so we don’t deal with the magic circle. But our firms are still well-established.”
A bit like Intel.