In-house interview: Weir Group GC, Keith Ruddock

Weir Group’s Keith Ruddock honed his belief that lawyers work close to the coalface at Shell, and now applies that ethos to help the Scottish engineering conglomerate grow

Keith Ruddock became Weir Group general counsel and company secretary in April 2012. At that point the company had been growing significantly through acquisition, and the privately owned businesses it had bought were unused to having a centralised legal function.

Ruddock inherited a structure whereby the lawyers supported specific regions rather than being organised across the three major divisions – minerals for mining, oil and gas, and powered industrial parts (supplying valves for industrial use).

Keith Ruddock Weir

Weir’s attempted merger deal with Finnish mining and oil components company Metso fell apart last week when the latter refused Weir’s offer of 0.95 of each of its shares to every Metso share.

Ruddock is a staunch believer in lawyers being at the coalface of the business and not being seen as remote. As a result he has retained the geographical structure, with lawyers supporting all business functions in their region no matter how prevalent they were in relation to each other.

Ruddock arrived at Weir via his own regional tour. He was born in the Republic of Ireland, went to school in Belfast and then moved to England to study at Cambridge, before doing his articles at Boodle Hatfield.

An in-house career beckoned after a couple of secondments, and in 1992 he left to join Shell as part of a team working on joint ventures at Shell International.

He held several roles at Shell during a period he says was a lesson in how to recognise when he was straying outside his comfort zone.

Of a stint specialising in the Middle East, he says: “I was specialising in corporate and commercial, which was fine, but once it came to litigation or employment and so on, that was a bit beyond my remit. Luckily, they didn’t let me loose on anything too dangerous.”

In 2002 he became secretary to the committee of managing directors, which is now Shell’s executive committee. With this unparalleled insight into the top echelons of one of the world’s largest businesses, Ruddock was made general counsel for Shell’s oil products business, now the ‘downstream’ business.

“I had 300 lawyers reporting to me worldwide,” he recalls.

Moving to Weir

In 2012, shortly after a significant new appointment into Shell’s legal team, Ruddock felt he had hit a glass ceiling.

“Peter Rees had just been appointed legal director at Shell and the opportunity came up to move to [engineering group Weir in] Scotland, which meant I’d be nearer my family in Ireland – it made sense at that time,” he says.

Aside from its proximity to Ireland, Weir was appealing because of its size. At Shell, Ruddock says, “you were always one person in a very big organisation”, but at Weir he felt there was an opportunity to make an impact.

“At Weir you’re not just the lawyer but part of the leadership team,” he adds.

Ruddock’s role sees him look after a range of functions, but within the legal department there are 17 lawyers and eight paralegals.

“The legal function has grown appropriately,” Ruddock says.

He recently appointed a deputy general counsel, Christopher Morgan, from Balfour Beatty in Glasgow, which he says reflects the rapid growth of the company and the evolving structure of the legal function.

“Weir as a whole has more than doubled in size in the past five years,” says Ruddock. “We’ve had a series of acquisitions, particularly in the US, so we’re not just across legal but a range of functions. We recognise that we’re now of a size and scale that means we need more people.”

He appreciates the opportunity to shape the organisation in support of the business, after being at Shell where everything was “tremendously established”. As Weir evolves, he says it is easier to “change the mindset of the business” and be more proactive about making changes.

“When you’re trying to judge the resource levels of an in-house team you can’t staff for the peaks because you’ll be overstaffed, but you can staff up for the main load that comes through,” he says. “We’d never pretend we are at a point where we can handle all the work that comes across our desks.”

Ruddock admits there are some jobs that cannot be done in-house, including parts of M&A and litigation. External counsel is called on for that work, but there is no formal panel.

“We have a core number of firms we typically use, but equally there will be situations where it is appropriate to go outside that group, so it’s not exclusive, but they know us well,” he says.

In Scotland Weir uses Maclay Murray & Spens, Pinsent Masons and Burness Paull. Although Weir is a Scottish company, Ruddock says it does not do much legal work there, it is mainly English law. In England it uses Herbert Smith Freehills and Baker & McKenzie and in the US and internationally, Jones Day and King & Spalding.

Ruddock did not formally review the panel but he did look at the terms under which Weir engages firms and as a result put in place slightly more formal arrangements.

“We looked at the fee structures, the value-adds and any areas they may have skills that we weren’t aware of,” he says. 

It was also a chance to assess the more general terms of the relationship.

“We live in a world where no one should take relationships for granted,” says Ruddock. “In all areas in life you’ll always be testing to see if things can be done better and that applies to us in-house as much as it does to firms externally.”

False economy

Ruddock is not convinced that cutting back on legal spend is helpful, seeing it as a false economy.

“The challenge from my chief executive was to better balance the ratio between internal and external spend,” he explains.

Ruddock is more concerned with demonstrable value and achieving a balance than making dramatic cuts. 

So be warned – cold calls simply offering to slash Weir’s legal spend are unlikely to be welcomed by this general counsel.

Keith Ruddock, Weir Group

Title: General counsel and company secretary

Industry: Engineering and manufacturing

Annual legal spend: £10m+

Number of employees: 15,000

Legal capability: 25

Main external firms: Baker & McKenzie, Burness Paull, Herbert Smith Freehills, Jones Day, King & Spalding, Maclay Murray & Spens, Pinsent Masons