In-house interview: Lynn West at Bombardier Transport
16 June 2014 | By Natalie Stanton
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Winning the £1bn Crossrail contract was critical in reviving Bombardier’s fortunes for big-bidding, says Lynn West, head of legal for the UK’s last surviving train maker
Next time you wade into an eBay bidding war, spare a thought for Bombardier Transport’s head of contracts and legal affairs Lynn West. For West and her eight-lawyer team, piecing together bids for massive rolling stock contracts is all part of the day job, and it’s by no means an easy ride.
Having been in the role for almost five years, West recently emerged triumphant from one of the toughest challenges of her career: the Crossrail bid. After two years of hard bargaining, Bombardier’s in-house team helped secure the £1bn contract, beating off competition from the likes of Hitachi and Spanish manufacturer CAF.
It is hard to emphasise just how important winning the massive Crossrail mandate was to Bombardier. Shortly after the bidding process kicked off in 2011, the company lost out on an enormous £1.4bn contract to build 1,200 carriages for Thameslink, controversially being pipped at the post by Siemens. The loss brought Bombardier’s Derby plant to the brink, costing more than 1,400 jobs.
So, the giant Crossrail mandate was a welcome relief. It breathed new life into the UK’s only surviving train manufacturer, handing it the job of delivering and maintaining 65 trains and a maintenance depot at West London’s Old Oak Common, with both projects securing hundreds of jobs.
Bombardier flexed its legal muscle to secure the Crossrail bid, allocating two of its eight legal team members to work full-time on the project.
“It was a big drain on resources,” says West.
And it was a long, hard slog for the two lawyers assigned to the bid – Kate Parkes and Kate Austen.
As Austen notes: “It was a weighty old contract and volume was the hardest thing. Some bids are over in four to six weeks, but Crossrail continued for two whole years. It was intense over a long period of time, and you need a lot of stamina.”
It was also an awkward tender to manoeuvre, throwing a number of curve-balls at Bombardier’s legal team. About a year after the effort kicked off the Government ditched plans to fund the project by a PPP, opting instead for a purely public model.
“As it changed shape we had to take a new way of thinking,” admits Austen. “It was almost like we were doing it all over again”.
The huge amount of media attention on the Crossrail bid did not help matters.
West says: “The project was standalone and we didn’t have any feedback along the way. We were almost working in a bubble. Corporate governance was strict and the spotlight was on scrutiny. People kept saying we were a shoo-in for it, but we still had to put in the best bid.”
Since West joined Bombardier in the role of contracts manager and legal adviser back in 2005, the team has grown from roughly five to eight lawyers – and two further recruits are set to join in coming months. The group, which presides over Bombardier’s legal function in the UK and South Africa, is scattered across the country, with lawyers in London, Derby, Burton and Crewe.
While work relating to rolling stock tenders consumes about 60 per cent of their time, the legal team spends the remaining 40 per cent dealing with project execution – maintenance, new-build contracts and the like.
But by their nature, bids come and go. And the legal team’s workload quickly follows suit.
“We’re trying to balance our resource levels with tight timescales,” West adds.
One solution is to hire in extra capacity on temporary contracts. In 2012, for example, Bombardier brought in former London Underground lawyer and PPP expert Jane Mee to lend a hand on the Crossrail bid until September 2013.
Fortunately, Bombardier can also turn to its friends in private practice to plug any gaps with second-ees in times of high demand. Most recently, these have been plucked from the associate pool at Bond Dickinson, with which Bombardier has a blossoming relationship.
“It’s our newest relationship and it’s gone from strength to strength,” says West. “We first met them on the other side of the table and we realised they were good negotiators. Some lawyers dig in their heels for the sake of it, but Bond Dickinson are pragmatic enough to reach agreement and move forward.”
At the moment, the relationship is based primarily on secondments, which Bond Dickinson provides when the train company needs extra hands on deck.
“We bring them in if we have a peak in workload, or when someone is on maternity leave,” says West.
That is convenient – the eight-strong team has produced six babies in two years.
Bond Dickinson is also picking up an increasing amount of work from West on litigation and procurement matters. It’s quite a coup, given that Bombardier’s legal team is highly reluctant to outsource work.
“We train people up on our own products and ensure they understand the strategy the business wants to adopt,” says West. “We’re an integral part of the business. We only turn to external lawyers where we have a specific question to put out to experts, or where we have a claims situation that involves volume we can’t avoid.”
It is hardly surprising, then, that Bombardier has no formal legal panel. The company’s parent group Bombardier, based in Montreal, regularly turns to Norton Rose Fulbright. However, closer to home West has a good relationship with Pinsent Masons on employment and property, and has historically turned to Dentons with specific questions relating to bids.
So, now the Crossrail contract is in the bag, are those in the legal team sat twiddling its thumbs? Hardly, says West.
With refranchising bids for Essex Thameside, Greater Anglia and South West Trains rumbling away, alongside work for the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme, a bunch of Tube and overground train deals and “bread and butter” maintenance issues, it looks as if West’s team won’t be putting the brakes on any time soon.
Lynn West, Bombardier Transport
Position: Head of contracts and legal affairs
Reporting to: Vice-president legal and bid approval Mathieu Godin
Legal spend: Up to £1m
Main external firms: Bond Dickinson, Norton Rose Fulbright, Pinsent Masons
Lynn West CV
Head of contracts and legal affairs, Bombardier Transportation
Jan 2005-Nov 2009:
Contracts manager/legal adviser, Bombardier Transportation
Mar 1998-Dec 2004:
Head of legal for various
Technip Group-related legal entities in UK, US and Angola
Nov 1994-Nov 1996:
Senior commercial manager, BAE Systems
Mar 1990-Nov 1994:
Commercial manager, BAE Systems
Nov 1987-Mar 1990:
Contracts manager, BAE Systems
Sep 1984-Nov 1987:
Contracts clerk, BAE Systems (previously VSEL)