Motor head: Simon MacDonald, MotorSport
5 September 2010 | By Andrew Pugh
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Risk management is the name of the game in the fast-moving world of Simon MacDonald, group legal affairs manager at MotorSport Vision.
An office overlooking the Clearways bend at the legendary Brands Hatch motor racing circuit is not the sort of place you might expect to find a lawyer. But for Simon MacDonald, group legal affairs manager at MotorSport Vision Group, the glamorous location is all part of the attraction.
It also helps that the job is not without its perks.
“I’ve had a spin around Brands Hatch a couple of times - it’s all good fun,” he says. “But some people have this idea that I spend all my time driving around, and that really isn’t the case.”
MacDonald is the sole lawyer at MotorSport Vision and its sister company PalmerSport. In 2004 the company, led by chief executive and ex-Formula 1 driver Jonathan Palmer, bought Brands Hatch and three other UK circuits - Oulton Park, Snetterton and Cadwell Park - from Octagon Motorsports.
Palmer and his team set about modernising the facilities at the circuits, bringing competitive racing back to Brands Hatch in the process, and later launched the corporate motor sport company PalmerSport.
MacDonald joined MotorSport Vision from the less glamorous confines of cable manufacturer HellermannTyton, where he was group legal counsel, in 2008. One of his first challenges was getting to know the jargon.
“There’s an astonishing number of acronyms in this game and you need to get up-to-speed quickly to contribute to conversations,” he reveals. “I’ve been helped by people like Jonathan [Palmer]. Everyone here is passionate about motor sport and they’re helpful when you show a desire to get to grips with the issues.”
On joining there were tougher tasks than learning the lingo awaiting MacDonald. As well as handling a constant flow of commercial contracts there was the small matter of negotiating a successful bid to operate the Formula Two (F2) World Championship with the sport’s global governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA).
MacDonald now handles all F2 matters, such as overseeing sponsorship agreements, broadcasting rights and driver contracts. But perhaps the most crucial aspect of his job is risk management.
“There’s no getting away from the fact that racing is dangerous,” he says. “It’s inevitable when you’re travelling at high speeds.
“That involves many commercial risks and that’s something we handle on a day-to-day basis, be it throughproactive measures, such as ensuring contracts and insurance policies are watertight, or reactive measures when there’s an accident, when you need to deal with things efficiently and sensitively.
“People get injured and there have been occasional fatalities. That has to be accepted as inevitable, but we obviously strive to stop such things happening.”
MacDonald concedes that his risk management responsibilities can lead to conflict with the commercial team, although the company has invested in health and safety.
“There are sometimes tensions when, from a legal risk perspective, I can’t allow an event to take place and the commercial side sees that as a loss of revenue,” he explains. ”Sometimes I conclude the risk is too great, but getting that message across requires careful management.”
While his legal spend depends on the level of transactional activity undertaken by the company, MacDonald handles most commercial contracts, litigation and employment matters in-house.
For property matters he uses Berwin Leighton Paisner, which advised on the company’s purchase of land used to develop its Bedford Aerodrome site; for corporate matters he instructs Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer; while for IP issues he turns to Olswang.
As well as agreeing fixed-fee arrangements, MacDonald encourages the use of contra deals, offering law firms access to corporate hospitality events via its PalmerSports activities at Bedford Autodrome in return for unbilled legal advice.
One of the most difficult aspects of MacDonald’s job is navigating the maze of regulations and organisations that govern the industry. This involves, for example, working with UK governing bodies the Motor Sports Association, the Auto Cycle Union and the Motorcycle Circuit Racing Control Board, plus global bodies the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme and the FIA.
While he sometimes instructs lawyers at Beachcroft for advice on regulation, MacDonald handles most issues in-house, and after two years in the role considers himself an expert.
Despite the heavy workload, MacDonald says there are no plans to expand the legal function. While he admits the job can get stressful, the 33-year-old insists that he thrives in the sole counsel role.
“It’s a fascinating legal challenge because you’re there at the coalface and you can’t shy away from getting involved in important commercial decisions,” he says.
“You need a deft touch.”
Name: Simon MacDonald
Company: MotorSport Vision Group
Position: Group legal affairs manager
Industry: Motor sport
Reporting to: Chief executive Jonathan Palmer
Employees: 210 Main external law firms: Berwin Leighton Paisner, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
1999: LLB (Hons), King’s College London
2001: LPC, College of Law, London
2001-05: Trainee, then associate, Oury Clark Solicitors
2005-06: Legal counsel, Hazell Carr
2006-08: Group legal counsel, HellermannTyton
2008-present: Group legal affairs manager, MotorSport Vision Group