Vodafone Group GC: Ringing the changes
12 March 2012 | By Ruth Green
Vodafone Group already had a strong legal team when Rosemary Martin took over as general counsel, but she’s still found ways to make her mark
When Rosemary Martin joined Vodafone Group as general counsel and company secretary in April 2010, she was embarking on a role that would challenge even a lawyer who had served as chief executive of the Practical Law Group and group general counsel and company secretary at the then Reuters Group.
Vodafone’s previous general counsel Stephen Scott was retiring after 30 years of service and, as Martin notes, had seen the company through an extraordinary period of growth and expansion in an increasingly fast-moving industry. One of Martin’s main tasks was figuring out how to make her mark.
“I knew I was going to be facing some very different challenges,” she admits. “When I joined, the legal team was already very strong, so the main task for me was to improve on something that was already good.”
One of Martin’s first steps was to implement a legal transformation programme in October 2010.
“In talks with legal, secretariat and business colleagues we discussed how we could improve the legal function,” she recalls. “We’re all paddling different boats but heading down the same stream, and the legal transformation programme has helped us make improvements and to set out a future vision for our legal function.”
The programme consists of four key areas, focusing on people and careers, technology, workstream and the legal team.
A key change during Martin’s tenure has been the establishment of a formal compliance team. “We’d already done quite a lot in the compliance area,” she explains. “But it was all kickstarted after the introduction of the Bribery Act in the UK in 2010,” she explains.
Martin wanted to make sure that the compliance team was conducted properly and enlisted Jacqueline Barrett, the former head of Vodafone UK, to lead the team in early 2011.
Another major undertaking during Martin’s tenure has been a large-scale overhaul of Vodafone’s panel firms. The review, which took place last year over the summer, saw the legal team send out requests for proposals to around 30 firms and succeeded in whittling the panel down to just 10 firms.
“It was a lot of work for both us and the law firms,” says Martin. “In the end we chose 10 firms plus a legal services provider.”
The review saw the appointment of three new firms - DAC Beachcroft, DLA Piper and Olswang - although DAC Beachcroft had previously handled employment matters for Vodafone UK.
Amid the reams of paperwork and lengthy review process, there was one particularly memorable moment that made Martin smile.
“During the interviews, when we asked about innovation, the crew from Olswang charmingly leant in and said, ’Ah, innovation - our favourite topic’,” she recalls. “Aside from the firm’s excellent reputation, it was a moment like this that really made it stand out.”
When it comes to panels, Martin is a firm believer that both lawyers and procurement have an important role to play in the review process.
“Lawyers should be involved in choosing which law firms they work with, but it’s also incredibly useful to have procurement involved as they’re very comfortable having conversations about costs, value-adds and other issues that perhaps lawyers are less forthcoming about,” she says.
Service with a smile
On joining Vodafone, Martin stepped down from her role as the director of the Legal Services Board. However, she still strongly believes that legal services providers are just as well suited to advising on certain aspects of legal work as law firms.
“As a corporate client, you’re always looking for value for money and for firms that provide more cost-effective advice,” she notes.
As an example of this, in February Vodafone signed an agreement with Axiom to support the in-house legal department of Vodafone Procurement Company, the group’s central procurement function based in Luxembourg.
Martin oversees a 400-strong legal team worldwide, which includes around 320 lawyers.
Although she is not involved directly, a key issue during Martin’s tenure has been Vodafone’s appeal against a tax demand by the Indian government. In January, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that the country’s tax authorities had no jurisdiction over Vodafone’s $11bn (£6.95bn) deal to buy Hutchison Whampoa’s Indian mobile business in 2007.
The case was running two years before Martin was appointed general counsel and she has been helping the team working on the case in India.
“It has been a huge case, with some 7,000 documents filed. We received excellent support from Indian law firm Dutt Menon Dunmorrsett,” she enthuses.
Martin is also passionate about diversity and inclusion (D&I), establishing a membership-led forum for FTSE100 companies called ID100 in May 2011.
“The forum is designed to help us compare notes on what we’re each doing on D&I and in particular to develop ways for women to succeed throughout their careers so they can acquire the skills and attributes required to get selected for board and senior leadership roles,” she explains.
Martin also sees a clear crossover between her D&I interests and her legal work.
“I believe that those legal services suppliers that recognise the value of having diverse people throughout their organisations will be best placed to sail to advantage in the winds of change that are blowing through our profession,” she says.
Group general counsel, Colt Technology Services
The pace of change and innovation in our industry is no less relenting than it was in the 1990s when, fresh from private practice in the City, I first worked as an in-house lawyer at start-up mobile operator One-2-One.
I’ve spent the past 15 years in technology-based businesses. After six years at Colt, I’ve learned that my lifeblood as a lawyer is keeping close to the business and ensuring my team acts as a business enabler rather than a blocker.
We and our customers are faced with an increasingly complex world of regulatory and legal requirements; as lawyers delivering value to our company, shareholders and customers, we require a huge amount of technical knowledge and well-developed judgement. I demand that each of my lawyers demonstrates finely honed commercial sensibility, tons of creativity and excellent communication skills.
But in a competitive world even this is not enough. At Colt we have innovated to develop new models for providing efficient and world-class legal services.
For example, we now have 25 per cent of our legal team based in India and we’ve pioneered a new commercial model for legal services with our preferred law firm partners Baker & McKenzie and Greenberg Traurig Maher.
All this means we can provide a better service to the business - faster, smarter and more efficiently than ever before.