In-house interview: Ian Haslegrave, GC, Electrocomponents
1 September 2014 | By Margaret Taylor
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A yearning for pioneering digital work across international boundaries means Ian Haslegrave has found his niche at electronics company Electrocomponents
Ian Haslegrave developed a taste for international work as a newly qualified solicitor at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, which is just as well given that the company he now works for is present in 32 countries and operates 60 websites in almost as many languages.
Following spells as an in-houser at United Biscuits and Viacom Outdoor, Haslegrave took up his present role as general counsel and company secretary at electronics and maintenance products distributor Electrocomponents in 2006.
The business, according to Haslegrave, sells “everything the electronics engineer needs”. It is headquartered in Oxford yet makes 70 per cent of its sales outside the UK. Although the company operates in a very different sector from those Haslegrave had worked in previously, the job not only ticks his international work box but also develops an interest in digital operations piqued at Viacom Outdoor.
“[Electrocomponents] is a global company and there’s a real focus on driving the international business – that came across when I first met the CEO and financial director,” he says. “The other thing is that it’s advanced when it comes to digital e-commerce.
“When I was at Freshfields I was a member of the international joint venture group and spent six months in Hong Kong while I was doing my articles. I did one joint venture across several countries in Asia and got quite a taste for international work.
“At Viacom Outdoor I worked on the London Underground advertising contract – all the adverts on the underground are on one contract – which represented a huge portion of Viacom Outdoor’s UK business. At the time it was moving from paper adverts to digital so there was a lot of high-level innovation on the digital side.”
With Electrocomponents’ websites receiving 10 million visits every month digital is a major focus for the business – so much so that it has the biggest spend for search engine marketing on Google. E-commerce accounts for about 58 per cent of Electrocomponents’ revenues and the company has embarked on a project designed to grow this further.
On the one hand this means more work for the legal team in terms of drawing up contracts and dealing with compliance issues in multiple countries. On the other, high levels of this kind of work have allowed Haslegrave to take a view on what should be handled by the four-lawyer, 26-person legal team and what could be done elsewhere in the business.
“When I arrived the team was overwhelmed by day-to-day stuff so it was important for me to step back and see what we should focus on and what areas we could train others to take on,” he says. “On the commercial side we’ve looked at how we work with suppliers and customers, and at what level we should get involved.
“We’ve changed some thresholds and trained people in the business on the type of issues we get, so we now have people who are quasi-contract handlers. That means my team gets less of the day-to-day stuff so we can focus on the higher-end work.”
This enables the legal team to get out of the UK to visit other parts of the business, with one lawyer last year spending several weeks in Asia dealing with compliance issues.
There are certain areas the legal team will not handle, though, with Haslegrave saying some property work is a “distraction”. Burges Salmon manages this aspect of Electrocomponents’ legal needs, while Linklaters provides corporate advice, Bird & Bird handles international marketing and data protection issues, and Wragge Lawrence Graham does IT and commercial work. On the employment side, UK issues are dealt with by Howes Percival while Lewis Silkin handles the global end as well as senior hires.
As this list has not been overhauled since Haslegrave joined the business eight years ago, he is gearing up to do a major panel review later this year or in 2015. And it is junior lawyers he is keen to hear from.
“I’m a firm believer that you don’t just want senior partners coming in at the start and then you never see them again,” he says. “I want associates to talk a lot at initial meetings because they’re the people I’ll be talking to on a daily basis. A lot of reputations are known to us, but it’s personalities we’re interested in.”