The role of general counsel at Old Mutual Asset Managers has changed dramatically in the past year. A restructuring of the whole company resulting in widespread cuts was the catalyst for change for the legal team. For general counsel Meekal Hashmi, the day-to-day running of the department has never been more challenging.
When The Lawyer spoke with Hashmi in 2007 his role was head of legal. Governing a team of one, the former Clifford Chance funds lawyer focused purely on Old Mutual’s legal needs. Now Hashmi not only represents the legal function, he also has a place on the nine-member executive management committee and has become the head of the group’s HR department.
“It’s been a very difficult year,” admits Hashmi. “Before I looked after legal only. Now I have a much broader remit and I’ve had to learn about areas that I haven’t had experience of before.”
It has been a steep learning curve. HR is a totally new area for Hashmi. Dealing with complex employment issues arising from downturn has propelled the in-house lawyer into a different area of law.
“HR’s been a fascinating new area and I think it’s made real sense to expand my role in it,” says Hashmi. “Given the downturn and the cuts that companies have had to make, HR is becoming increasingly legalistic.”
Despite his enthusiasm Hashmi admits he could not have embarked on his new role alone. Learning about HR has been made all the more manageable with the help of trusted external advisers, in particular Shoosmiths employment partner Kevin McCavish.
“Let’s just say Kevin’s on speed dial on my phone,” says Hashmi. “I’ve had to learn a lot very quickly, so I’ve needed someone I can trust to give me good, solid advice.”
Shoosmiths is a new addition to Old Mutual’s list of advisers. Longstanding advisers include Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Bird & Bird, Dillon Eustace, Macfarlanes, Ogier and Simmons & Simmons.
HR issues aside, the Old Mutual legal team is preoccupied with complex fund formation regulatory matters. Fund formation represents the bulk of Hashmi’s work on a daily basis. And with recovery in the air Hashmi has been able to reinforce his team. In October Hashmi hired Simmons funds associate Lisa Poynter.
“She’s been a real asset over the past few months,” says Hashmi. “There’s no doubt we needed to bulk up the team and the level of work we’re now dealing with requires more legal capabilities in-house.”
Given Hashmi’s expanded role, Poynter’s hire was indeed timely. As well as HR and legal responsibilities, Hashmi was appointed to the executive management team nine months ago. Now at the heart of the decision-making process for Old Mutual, Hashmi has adopted a different perspective of the business.
“As a lawyer you provide advice and suggestions on how to run the business, but ultimately the decision is made by others,” explains Hashmi. “I’m part of the group that makes those decisions and has to find a way of effectively implementing them across the business. It’s a totally different perspective.”
While not many in-housers take control of HR issues there is a growing trend for general counsel to take on wider responsibilities. Hashmi identifies this as a trend originating in the US.
“General counsel in the US have for some time had responsibilities far broader than legal,” explains Hashmi. “They tend to sit closer to the operational side of the business and have a broader remit. This is something we’re starting to see over here.”
For Hashmi the downturn has had a dramatic impact on his role and the way he runs the Old Mutual legal team. Spread across a number of different departments at the business, he has had to adapt quickly to a new way of working.
While Hashmi is cautiously optimistic about the future, he predicts that the challenging times will continue well into 2010 for his business.
“Yes there is optimism, but we’re in no way out of the woods yet,” he stresses. “For everyone the next year will be very challenging indeed.
In-house and private practice lawyers and teams will be well aware of this reality.”
Name: Meekal Hashmi
Organisation: Old Mutual Asset Managers
Sector: Financial Services
Title: General counsel
Reporting to: CEO Peter Baxter
Assets under management: £4bn
Total number of employees: 135
Total legal capability: Three
Main law firms: Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Bird & Bird, Macfarlanes, Shoosmiths, Simmons & Simmons, Stephenson Harwood
Total legal spend:Approximately £500,000
1989-92: BSc, University of Edinburgh
1992-94: CPE/LPC, College Of Law, York
1994 -95: LLM, London School of Economics
1995-97: Trainee, Trowers & Hamlins
1997-99: Corporate associate, Clifford Chance
1999-2001: In-house counsel, Citco Fund Services
2002-06: In-house counsel, Barings
2006-20: Head of legal, Old Mutual Asset Managers
2007–present: General Counsel, Old Mutual Asset Managers