Safe hands: Søren Lundsberg-Nielsen, G4S
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On the bookcase in the office of G4S group general ;counsel Søren Lundsberg-Nielsen, there sits a cartoon by the artist Kipper Williams showing a lawyer surrounded by paper. The caption reads: “I could have sworn the Securicor agreement was here a minute ago.”
“It’s from the artist himself,” says Lundsberg-Nielsen. “It still makes me laugh.”
The framed sketch was published during Dutch security company Group 4 Falck’s merger talks with the UK’s Securicor and made reference to a period in the 1990s when, following a series of high-profile news stories about losing prisoners, Group 4 became the butt of many a comedian’s jokes.
But that was before the 2004 merger and before the creation of a mammoth security business spanning 120 countries that turns over £4.5bn a year.
Reputation problems of the type lampooned in the British tabloids are but a distant memory for Lundsberg-Nielsen, a Dutch lawyer who worked his way up through the merger to a lofty position on the board of an ambitious and profitable FTSE100 company.
Lundsberg-Nielsen’s role at G4S is far removed from the usual general counsel post. Manned by just 55 people, including the eight-lawyer legal team, the office near Gatwick is a shining example of how to keep things simple in multinational business.
With the exception of M&A work (60 acquisitions last year), all of the company’s subsidiaries operate autonomously, be it the security services (managing the transport of prisoners, detention centres and security for people and events) or cash services (such as transporting money for the Bank of England).
Now the largest employer on the London Stock Exchange, G4S’s web of contracts includes running security for Savannah River, a 310-square mile nuclear facility in South Carolina under its G4S Wackenhut division, and firefighting for military forces in Iraq.
Being the top lawyer at a company as large and diverse as this would give most in the legal profession a headache just thinking about it, but a relaxed Lundsberg-Nielsen simply shrugs when asked how much the company spends in legal fees, arguing that he would need an army of lawyers to centralise the legal function.
“I wouldn’t know how to tell them to spend their money anyway,” he says. “I’d much rather spend my resources helping the subsidiaries set up their legal structures and encourage them to manage their spend than negotiate with a law firm in one of the 120 countries in which we operate.”
Lundsberg-Nielsen and his board prefer “direct management” and have spent the past four years travelling to as many countries as they could, meeting with the company’s many regional chief executives. This, in conjunction with a company-wide rebrand that sees the entire organisation come under the G4S logo from 2009 onwards, is the favoured approach.
“It’s been a long journey, but we’ve created a unity across the group,” says Lundsberg-Nielsen. “When I visit a team in a distant country and they are on the same page, it makes it all worth it.”
Accordingly, Lundsberg-Nielsen’s input into G4S is much more business-focused than many of his in-house peers, reporting to chief executive Nick Buckles.
“In my view, that access is much better in the long run,” he says of a structure that he himself put in place and has seen through to implementation. “At the time I joined I had a free hand to create the structure I wanted, which was very good from my point of view. We’re a service industry, so the most important thing is the contracts with our clients. We had to build a legal structure that allows our businesses to have a good knowledge of negotiation and drawing these contracts.”
The open relationship style means Lundsberg-Nielsen almost operates as a legal statesman – in contact with all managerial elements of the business from the ground up. Not being directly in charge of legal budgets and with the ear of those in the boardroom makes him more approachable, he says.
“The legal heads are happy to discuss any problems they have with me,” he adds. “They’re often relieved and grateful for the advice. We can’t sit here in Crawley, looking at the Savannah River contract, for example, and make accurate decisions. But we can put a system in place where we ask the
Name: Søren Lundsberg-Nielsen
Position: Group general counsel
Reporting to: Chief executive Nick Buckles
Company turnover: £4.5bn
Total number of employees: 570,000
Total legal capacity: Eight in the Crawley head office; more than 60 taking subsidiaries into account
Main external law firms: Herbert Smith, Norton Rose (in UK)
1972-78: LLB, University of Copenhagen
1981-84: Associate solicitor, Kromann Reumert
1984-96: Corporate counsel, Faxe Kalk
1996-98: Corporate counsel and vice-president, Faxe Kalk
1998-2001: Vice-president and general counsel Europe, JM Huber
2001-04: General counsel, Group 4 Falck
2004-present: Group general counsel, G4S