In the world of entertainment technology, it helps if an in-house counsel is a strong all-rounder, has an eye for detail – and is happy to live out of a suitcase. Anthony Dixon, general counsel and company secretary at pay-TV giant Pace, fits that profile.
The dynamic Yorkshireman began his career in private practice at Ashurst Morris Crisp (now Ashurst) before heading back to his home turf as group commercial lawyer at Yorkshire Water. He joined newly floated Pace in 1997 and now leads a legal team of 10 at what has become the world’s number one set-top box provider.
Dixon’s team consists of five lawyers at the Pace HQ in Saltaire, Yorkshire plus three in-house lawyers in Paris and two in Florida.
“We run a flat structure and I’m happy with the people we have in charge in each of these locations,” Dixon says. “They’re experienced lawyers and many of them have 10 or 11 years’ PQE. They’re running their own workloads and each one will have a speciality or concentration
Dixon and his team handle all commercial legal work in-house, while IP litigation and some wider reaching cases are farmed out to Pace’s external panel.
“We’re a small team but the customer base is worldwide, and in terms of coverage our teams can deal with contracts being negotiated on the other side of the world,” he says. “We normally just operate in the pay-TV market, selling our designs for high-definition set-top boxes. Any contract needs terms and a supply agreement, and we also deal with licences regarding IP from third parties as well as licences in terms of our own IP. There are also maintenance, software and support agreements.”
Pace’s global reach means Dixon often finds himself travelling for extended periods as he follows clients’ legal needs around the world.
“There’s a big emphasis on long-term relationships, and logistically you tend to have to go where the customer is based,” he says. “The arrangements can be quite complicated and you’re working very much as a consultant to commercial teams.”
Dixon and his lawyers are also called in whenever a problem or fault is discovered in a Pace product to determine who is responsible, but he points out that disputes in the world of IT rarely wind up in the courts.
“It’s such a fast-moving business that it doesn’t suit people to resort to litigation,” he adds. “It’s rare that anyone resorts to the courts. Normally we’re involved in mediation or a negotiation process, and most claims are settled financially.”
Dixon instructs a panel of external firms including Travers Smith for acquisition work, Pinsent Masons for IP litigation, and Gibson Dunn & Crutcher and Greenberg Traurig on the US side, including IP and consumer protection requirements.
He also collaborated with Eversheds, Stewarts Law and Grayston & Company on a successful appeal, alongside BSkyB, to the European Court of Justice against the imposition of duties on imported set-top boxes that include hard disk drives.
“We’re optimistic about the outcome,” he says. “It’s important to us financially because of the import duties we had to put on this category of set-top boxes – about 14 per cent. We had to switch our manufacturing to European locations. It’s obviously more economical and environmentally friendly for us to manufacture all our boxes in one place – the Far East.”
Another major case on which Pace recently instructed external lawyers – and an unusual one at that – was its acquisition of US wireless gateway business 2Wire in November last year.
To secure the deal Dixon and Pace group treasurer Kate Smedley, along with external advisers KPMG Debt Advisory Services and Travers Smith, announced Pace’s acquisition of the $475m (£291m) technology business without bank finance being in place.
“That’s almost unheard of but we did it, and then we had finance in place within a matter of weeks,” Dixon recalls. “I was the link between the legal team and the banks, and that was one of the most interesting aspects of the acquisition.”
Despite the hugely competitive nature of the market, Dixon is confident his employer is innovative enough to retain its crown as the number one set-top box supplier.
“We have a vision as to how the market is going to go, and obviously we will try to maintain our position of market leadership,” he says.
Name: Anthony Dixon
Position: General counsel
Reporting to: CEO Neil Gaydon
Annual legal spend: £1.4m
Legal capability: 10
Main law firms: Ashurst, Eversheds, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, Grayston & Company, Greenberg Traurig, Pinsent Masons, Travers Smith