Christopher Aujard is no stranger to hard work, but in his role as legal director at insurer Royal London Group he is also a great believer in putting people first. By Gavriel Hollander
Christopher Aujard, Royal London Group’s legal director, is not a man to shirk a challenge. Having built up the legal offering at Singer & Friedlander virtually from scratch in a little over two years, Aujard decided that rather than sitting back and admiring his handiwork, he would take on the task of overhauling the team at Royal London.
But as someone who spends his spare time racing in cross-country ski marathons, relaxation is never high on Aujard’s agenda.
In fact, it was the prospect of having less to do – following the takeover of Singer by Icelandic bank Kaupthing – that prompted his move over to the insurance and asset management group three years ago.
“I was both head of legal and head of compliance,” he explains. “While at Singer I had that combined role. When Kaupthing took them over, they wanted to downsize both roles and split them up, and that wasn’t something I wanted.”
And if he was looking for someone to put more on his plate, that’s what he found at Royal London.
Aujard was immediately tasked with redeveloping the legal department into what he calls “a one-team function”. With the small team split between Edinburgh and London, it was not a simple process to get them working as one.
“Some challenges were quite prosaic,’ he recalls, ’like getting the guys to actually meet each other and talk to each other. I’m a great believer in getting the team to develop its own sense of purpose, so we did a lot of work with team-based objectives to agree priorities.”
With a team that Aujard readily admits is “relatively small” for such a large player in a highly regulated business, it is no surprise that his role goes a lot further than organising get-togethers for his colleagues. The past two years has seen him put in place the group’s first-ever formal panel for legal advisers while simultaneously donning his transactional hat to oversee the break-up bid for the Pearl Group.
“It’s one of the most complicated deals I’ve ever been involved with,” he says of the deal to acquire various assets from the rival insurer. “This group isn’t a sleepy organisation. Part of the reason for hiring me was that, in addition to bringing in a team, I’ve done quite a few deals in my day.”
That transactional experience has allowed Aujard to keep as much of his operations in-house as possible.
“We try to do what we can,” he says. “That said, we have a huge property portfolio with only one dedicated lawyer so there’s a constant stream of stuff going out. On the corporate side it’s driven by transactions. Sometimes you need the grunt power and specialist expertise of external firms.”
The grunt power on the Pearl deal has been supplied variously by Simmons & Simmons and Aujard’s alma mater Norton Rose. Other members of the panel, reviewed and streamlined by Aujard last year, include Eversheds, Herbert Smith, Pinsent Masons and Wragge & Co.
But with keeping legal spend down a top priority for Aujard, the trust he places in his own team is at least as important as the selection of external advisers. In fact, ’trust’ and ’faith’ are central to how he works with his team.
“It’s all about having faith in people,” he says. “The team had and still has a fantastic amount of enthusiasm.”
To demonstrate that faith, Aujard points to the tale of his PA – a temp with a law degree who could not get a training contract. He took her on full-time and was rewarded when she qualified last month.
“For my part it’s about putting my money where my mouth is and saying: ’Great, I’ll take you on.’”
It is an attitude that tallies with Aujard’s organic view of an in-house legal function as something that has to grow to match a company’s needs rather than be tagged on at the back end.
”I’m in that school that says law is important, law is relevant, but law is just a tool that can be used to create and preserve value,” he explains. “It’s not something that’s abstract and nothing to do with the wider business.”
A lawyer who plays down his own importance? It is no wonder that Aujard should have become such a prized asset.
Name: Christopher Aujard
Company: The Royal London Mutual Insurance Society
Position: Group legal director and company secretary
Industry: Financial services Assets under management: £2.5bn
Legal capability:Nine (plus two secondees)
Legal spend: £1m-£5m
Main external law firms:Herbert Smith, Wragge & Co, Eversheds, Pinsent Masons, Norton Rose
Christopher Aujard’s CV
Education: 1986-87: LLM, Cambridge University
1980-84: LLB (Hons) and BSc (Physics), Monash University, Melbourne
Work history: 1987-88: Assistant, IMRO
1988-96: Senior assistant, Norton Rose
1996-2001: Head of commercial development, Lloyd’s of London
2001-04: Head of legal and company secretary, Wealth Management Division, National Australia Bank
2005-07: Managing director, legal and compliance, Kaupthing Singer & Friedlander
2007-present: Group legal director and company secretary, The Royal London Group