12 July 1999
In a sector which is often perceived as volatile, IT support and services group Computacenter appears at first glance to be a breath of fresh air in the computer industry.
The group's glittering billion-pound entrance last May to the London Stock Exchange coupled with its consistently high share price have made Computacenter an attractive City prospect.
In terms of staff relations however, the company has been embroiled in claims involving race discrimination, sex discrimination and unfair dismissal.
One of these claims recently ended in Computacenter signing an agreement with the Commission for Racial Equality to end a five-year investigation into racial discrimination following a complaint made by two engineers at the company.
Computacenter has also been involved in two industrial tribunal hearings with a former employee who claimed unfair dismissal and sex discrimination. Boodle Hatfield advised the company on employment matters.
For Computacenter's legal department, the successful flotation and the ongoing staff disputes illustrate the breadth of work a relatively small team of lawyers are called on to cope with.
Company secretary Alan Pottinger says that since the company has grown and evolved to provide more complex services to customers, more time is spent on negotiating deals than litigation.
Pottinger oversees this increase in contracts while juggling ongoing staff issues. But his remit is predominantly focused on the commercial issues.
He says: "You need to devise terms that are fair, readable, logical and cover all the bases, which takes up a lot of time."
Commenting on the flotation, Pottinger says he was part of the core management team that co-ordinated the move.
"I focused particularly on employee share schemes and gathering great chunks of information for the due diligence process," he says. "Between us we were meeting with lawyers and banks to get the Stock Exchange sorted."
About the company's external advisers on the deal, Pottinger says Linklaters was the main firm to provide corporate advice.
But he says at the time, both Linklaters and Dibbs were asked to bid for the business.
"I wanted to give Dibbs the opportunity to pitch for the main job, but Linklaters obviously has vast experience in that area.
"Size helps and the market also expects to see that type of firm."
Pottinger says the company ended up using Dibbs for the property work on the float, adding: "These days you don't need a large firm to do property work unless it involves a large acquisition."
On acquiring companies, Pottinger refers to the purchase of the distribution and services division of ECS International Belgium.
In terms of advice to international subsidiaries, which include France and Germany, Pottinger says: "We are very conscious of not imposing the UK on these countries.
"The German company had used their own solicitors down the years locally so we say to them that it seems to have worked and then we keep an eye on it.
"We don't want to stamp all over them and say: 'You must now use Linklaters in Germany'."
Pottinger says this attitude to allow foreign subsidiaries to use their own trusted legal contacts started when the company first ventured into France and a Computacenter investor recommended a local firm.
He says: "We kept it local when we acquired the French company. It was an interesting experience. They had a way of doing business which was a little bit frustrating at times. We were much newer to it then."
Head of legal
|Sector||Software and computer services|
|FTSE 250 ranking||82|
|Legal function||four lawyers, five support staff|
|Head of legal||Alan Pottinger|
|Reporting to||Mike Norris, chief executive|
|Main location for lawyers||Watford, Hertforshire|
|Main law firms||Linklaters & Alliance, Dibb Lupton Alsop, Boodle Hatfield|
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