Nick Cooper: Cable & Wireless

The task of turning around the fortunes of a fading FTSE100 force is a challenge for which Cable & Wireless global legal head Nick Cooper is uniquely equipped. By Ben Moshinsky

At one time one of the UK’s biggest companies, Cable & Wireless (C&W) is now in the relegation zone of the FTSE100. As a result the directors have overhauled the structure of the company in order to squeeze more profitability out of its core business – large-scale communications networks for blue-chip clients.

Changes include decentralising the business structure to free up its international operations and dropping the Bulldog Broadband consumer service.

One of the people at the centre of the changes is Nick Cooper, group general counsel. Cooper joined from Energis, which last year merged with C&W in a £780m deal. He was part of the three-year turnaround of Energis and now finds himself in the midst of another rescue mission. C&W turned to longstanding legal adviser Slaughter and May on the merger, while Macfarlanes acted for Energis.

“This has been incredibly intense,” says Cooper. “In January we had to update our trading forecast and completely change the structure. There are tremendous demands on the legal team.”

Two of C&W’s main problems – delisting in the US and the complicated multimillion-pound Pender Insurance litigation – are now behind the company. C&W settled this case against 17 defendants for £40m in January 2006 (The Lawyer, 23 January).

The High Court case coincided with the departure of Cooper’s predecessor Andrew Garard and bumped up the company’s legal spend to around £10m for the year. At the time of Garard’s departure, C&W said in a statement that he was leaving the company “following the successful resolution of a number of legal proceedings”.

With the case settled, Cooper has been freed up to concentrate on reshaping the legal side of the company.

As well as putting in place structural changes, Cooper wants to bring in some of the Energis culture that got his old company through the bad times. The legal department is central to this.

Cooper says: “We’re looking at being more customer-focused, more accountable, rapidly accessible and a highly integrated part of the business. The key to the culture is accountability.”

Cooper’s job is to push those reforms through the legal department and make sure it can adapt to the changing shape of the business. This is no easy task, considering he takes overall responsibility for the 16-strong UK legal group and departments spread across the company’s 33 international businesses.

The biggest international team is in Panama, where 22 lawyers try to stay on top of a difficult regulatory and litigous environment. But the company also has lawyers dotted about in Monaco, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Macao and Barbados.

The UK lawyers are spread over two sites, with 12 in Bracknell and four in Leeds. Cooper has introduced contract managers into the legal teams, which are client-facing roles to negotiate and manage agreements with key clients. The ultimate goal, using the legal group, is to improve the level of service that clients receive.

Cooper admits that the number of UK lawyers has dipped slightly, but says there are a lot of new faces in the team.

“I see the legal team carrying on evolving,” says Cooper. “We have an appetite for good people and expect the team to step up and make a major contribution.”

The drive to bring down costs is more likely to affect the number of external advisers the company uses rather than cause redundancies in-house. More than 20 different firms have advised on a variety of housekeeping matters, such as employment and real estate. Cooper, though, is likely to consolidate this work into instructions for a handful of large firms.

Even though Cooper is used to working in companies undergoing tough transition periods, he says that does not make his job any easier. But the uncertainty does add to the excitement, with Cooper concluding: “Who knows what the future holds?”

Nick Cooper
Group general counsel:
Cable & Wireless

Organisation: Cable & Wireless
Sector: Telecommunications
Turnover: £3.2bn
Employees: 14,500
Group general counsel: Nick Cooper
Reporting to:: Group managing director central and finance director Tony Rice
Annual legal spend: £5m-£10m
Global legal capacity: 54
Main law firms: Allen & Overy, DLA Piper, Halliwells, Slaughter and May, Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz
Nick Cooper’s CV: Education: 1984-87, Law, Leeds University

Work history: 1988 – trained at Herbert Smith; 1990 – qualified as a solicitor; 1994 – left to join the in-house legal department at Asda; 2000 – became Asda company secretary; 2000 – joined the in-house legal department at Sage; 2001 – joined JD Wetherspoons; 2002 – joined Energis; 2005 – joined Cable & Wireless