Sanjay Lobo: Lastminute.com

Come on, admit it. You have had a sneaky look for holidays on lastminute.com, dreaming of sandy beaches, instead of proofreading those contract terms and conditions. Imagine then, being Sanjay Lobo. On the fast-track to the top of the technology, media and telecoms (TMT) world, the 30-year-old is legal director of one of the hottest companies in the market: Lastminute.com is his homepage – he’s paid to look at it. Legitimately.

Lobo trained at Olswang between 1999 and 2001, before joining US travel giant Sabre Holdings as a staff solicitor.

Within a year he was made a senior solicitor for the Europe, Middle East and Africa (Emea) region, reporting to vice-president for legal services for Sabre Emea Iain Lindsay. In 2004, Lobo was given regional responsibility for the Travelocity brand.

In 2005, Sabre, using Slaughter and May, acquired lastminute.com, advised by Herbert Smith, for $1bn (£572.8m). Lobo spent six months working on nothing but the acquisition. Following its completion, he was assigned to lastminute.com to assist with integrating the company into Sabre. When lastminute.com general counsel David Hickson handed in his notice, Lobo was offered the top job.

“I never expected to be heading up one of the biggest dot.coms in Europe at the age of 29,” says Lobo, of his meteoric rise to the top.

But his work has only just begun. Lobo and his two assistants face a massive integration task; not only integrating lastminute.com into Sabre, but also the 14 companies that lastminute.com acquired in rapid succession before Sabre joined the party.

There has already been plenty of other work for Lobo and his team. They are negotiating a call centre outsourcing to Liverpool, have handled the disposal of a European joint venture and have overseen the employment contract for one of the dot.com boom’s highest-profile entrepreneurs – lastminute.com co-founder and chief executive officer Brent Hoberman.

But it is the integration challenge that will be keeping the team busiest for now. Lobo likens it to a massive group hug, describing it “as getting our arms around all the companies”.

“The company did 14 acquisitions very quickly. There is a massive challenge here, it’s going to take quite a few years,” says Lobo from a boardroom full of multi-coloured beanbags.

“Things have moved very fast and it’s a very young environment. People are used to having their deals done on the day, and one of the challenges is educating the company and its employees about legal risk. Contracts are going to take a little bit longer.

“Prior to Sabre coming in, lastminute.com did a lot of revenue-generating deals as soon as possible to boost its sale price and it did incredibly well. The profile has shifted now with a big-bucks backer. In a way, the company has to grow up a little bit.”

Lobo’s first task was to offload the small-claim customer-facing litigation that had been handled by the in-house team, freeing up his assistant Rachel Howell to focus on big-ticket litigation and general commercial work. Howell joined straight out of bar school and is now nearing cross-qualification as a solicitor.

“Seeing the change in Rachel’s role and the effect it’s had on her has been one of the most pleasing aspects so far,” says Lobo.

His other assistant is Sophie Williamson, an IP solicitor who “had made the transition from private practice to in-house effortlessly”, according to Lobo, advising on general commercial work. Growing the team is a given and Lobo is actively lobbying for more resources.

Lastminute.com has traditionally outsourced the majority of its legal work, particularly corporate deals, but Lobo is keen to change that, albeit slowly.

“The future has got to be about expansion [of the legal capability],” he says. “We’ve also got to make a more central issue of who is instructing which firms and on what. That consolidation has happened in the UK, but it needs to happen in Europe.”

The company is active across 14 European countries, with offices in Spain, Italy and France. Reigning them in and working out just who does what is one of his many challenges. “The company is not as structured and organised as we would like it to be,” Lobo frankly admits.

In the UK, Lobo favours Tarlo Lyons for litigation work, including one major piece of ongoing litigation, which remains confidential. Bird & Bird is the firm’s sole adviser on IP for now, but Lobo says the company is looking to expand its options, with numerous firms, including Pinsent Masons, invited to pitch for work.

Lobo has also brought his Sabre relationships with him, with both Salans in France and Allen & Overy in Germany having handled work for the parent company. Corporate work will continue to be assigned to Herbert Smith.

“These firms are not set in stone and we do need to expand because we have a lack of resource internally,” he says. “We’re certainly looking closely at our options in the technology sector.”

But what we all really want to know is what is the secret to getting the best deals on lastminute.com? Lobo is coy, but he does offer one piece of advice: “Package holidays, and obscure destinations – that’s where you’ll find the bargains.” Reach for the mouse now.

Sanjay Lobo
Legal Director
Lastminute.com

Statistics
Organisation Lastminute.com
Sector Travel/leisure
Turnover £1.5bn
Employees 2,000 (Europe)
Legal capacity Three
Legal Director Sanjay Lobo
Reporting to Travelocity global general counsel Sterling Miller
Main law firms Tarlo Lyons (litigation), Bird & Bird (IP), Herbert Smith (corporate), Salans (France) Allen & Overy (Germany)