Truphone GC: Tru life
18 March 2013 | By Lucy Burton
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Truphone GC Greg Mappledoram has his work cut out to help the legal function keep pace with the business - it has just had a £70m investment from Roman Abramovich
Six years ago British inventor James Tagg, who had already invented the touchscreens used on London’s tube network, thought of something else smart.
What if tourists could use a mobile to call and text abroad, but pay local rates? It was a simple answer to a simple problem. Tagg couldn’t get mobile phone coverage at his home on a farm, so found ways to make calls over a wireless internet connection instead.
Six years on and that £300m idea, now called Truphone, has caught the eye of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, who recently dished out £70m for a 23.3 per cent slice of the pie in a cash injection that will see staff numbers increase by 500.
For Truphone general counsel Greg Mappledoram, who joined the company from phone card firm Lycatel in 2009, Abramovich’s investment means exciting times lie ahead. Having led on the investment round alongside Simmons & Simmons ICT partner Tom Wheadon, Mappledoram is now tasked with expanding Truphone’s eight-strong legal team to keep pace with the business.
“As the company grows globally we need a team looking after Asia, Europe and US, as well as a new regulatory department and IP department,” outlines the former BT lawyer, who says he will double the size of his in-house legal team - currently six lawyers in the UK and two in the US - in the next 12 months as a result of the funding.
“We’re looking for a Hong Kong person to start the AsiaPac team, while an IP department will be important for us because the technology is innovative and we need to protect that with patent filings,” he adds. “We need people to not just protect our technology but also to use it as a weapon against those trying to sue us.”
For now, Mappledoram has his eyes firmly on the prize of creating a star class of in-house lawyers as the business, which currently operates in the UK, US and Australia, expands into Hong Kong, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain.
“The legal challenges we face are particularly unusual because we don’t focus on just one territory, such as BT with the UK,” the South Africa-born lawyer continues. “When you go to places like Hong Kong and Australia you need to go through a detailed list of questions. If our customer service is different according to where the customer is travelling to, for example, how do we deal with their data and ensure a seamless service? What is the common factor? One country may have an anomaly that requires us to need a specific consent form, for example. Regulations can differ quite dramatically.”
For this reason, Mappledoram needs to recruit with care.
“We need lawyers who can negotiate in different languages and be comfortable negotiating contracts with tier one banks,” he says. “Regulatory is proving a bit of a challenge because regulations differ and we need to be alive to the constantly changing nature of the global telecommunications regulatory environment we operate in. Our global regulatory counsel need to be able to address local requirements and create a positive environment we can develop our business in.”
Mappledoram’s legal team, then, clearly plays a key role in the smooth running of Truphone’s business growth, at least from a commercial, corporate and regulatory perspective. But what of external counsel?
Mappledoram estimates that around 20 per cent of the legal work is outsourced to external advisers, with Simmons, along with the firm’s affiliated partners, standing as the company’s main legal adviser for corporate and finance work.
“[The in-house legal team] covers all areas, but draw on external counsel for specialist work such as employment, where we utilise local counsel due to the specialist nature of employment law, and patent and trademark work,” Mappledoram explains, adding that he has a panel specifically for patent work that gets reviewed on a regular basis.
“We have a good relationship with Boult Wade Tennant, who undertake all our trademark work and work closely with me in ensuring that we protect our name and brand globally.”
Outside patent work there is no formal panel in place, with Mappledoram instructing external counsel “based on the legal requirements that need addressing”.
For the moment that same process goes for overseas too, with Mappledoram agreeing fixed fees and scope of work with local counsel outside the UK. This will change once the new hires are settled in, with regional legal team leaders to take over the responsibility. There are no other plans to change the structure of Truphone’s existing legal team, Mappledoram says.
But Abramovich’s funding is not just about expanding in terms of new heads. An in-house training programme is already on the cards for Truphone’s lawyers, and Mappledoram recently ran a workshop with Simmons for his global team.
“The next workshop will take place in the US where we can leverage the expertise and knowledge of our US counsel for the benefit of non-US lawyers,” he says.
Title: General counsel and company secretary
Reporting to: CEO
Legal capability: 8
Legal budget: £3m
Main external law firm: Boult Wade Tennant, Gilbert & Tobin, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, Simmons & Simmons
Stephen Lerner, GC and regulatory affairs director, Three
Three entered the UK mobile market in 2003 with a brief to shake things up - to be a challenger brand and drive competition. This challenger spirit is central to our legal approach.
Operating in a highly regulated sector such as telecoms presents exciting opportunities and challenges, and our recent successes include the reduction of mobile termination rates in the face of vigorous opposition. Lowering these wholesale costs means benefits to UK consumers in the form of affordable unlimited calling packages.
Keeping up with fast-moving technology and industry developments is vital. Being at the cutting edge means there is often no precedent for the type of work we do. Our in-house lawyers have to be resourceful, creative and nimble when advising the business on legal issues,
including managing supplier relationships, property, IP and consumer law.
The contentious nature of the communications industry means our lawyers are usually managing a number of litigation matters at any time.
We have also implemented online legal and compliance programmes, tailored to the scenarios our colleagues encounter day-to-day.
Three’s network was built for the mobile internet. Ten years on from our launch, mobile data access is highly valued, but we know we can’t rest on our laurels. We have more than doubled our spectrum holdings in the past year and are in the process of rolling out our extensive Ultrafast coverage across the UK.