15 November 2010 | By Andrew Pugh
Darren Drabble, GC at online comparison website Moneysupermarket.com, jumped in feet first when he learnt the company was on the verge of becoming a plc.
Darren Drabble probably already had enough on his plate before he was asked to head Moneysuper-market.com’s risk and compliance functions earlier this year.
Drabble was not only balancing the dual roles of general counsel and company secretary at the business, he and his wife - also a general counsel, at industrial equipment supplier Speedy Hire - are bringing up twin three-year-old daughters.
But then, Drabble is a glutton for punishment. When he first applied for the job in 2007 Moneysupermarket.com wasstill under private ownership. But Drabble was told during his interview that it could soon go public.
The thought of working the inevitable all-nighters did not put Drabble off. Instead, he insists, the prospect of joining the company during its IPO made him want the job even more.
“It was an interesting role as a private company, but the fact it might list was a real game changer,” he recalls. “I came out of the interview thinking, ’I have to get that job’.”
The IPO was already underway when he joined in the summer of 2007, but Drabble was able to take some pressure off chief financial officer Paul Doughty by focusing on areas such as corporate governance and directors’ contracts.
“It was a fairly steep learning curve and there were lots of late nights and early mornings, but it was a really exciting time,” he says. “Nobody at the company had been at a plc, and one of the challenges was balancing theentrepreneurial side with the more structured, formal side of being a public company.”
Drabble was asked to head regulatory compliance and operational risk six months ago. He says both areas have become increasingly important as the organisation has matured and the credit crisis has taken its toll.
“As a lawyer I tend to think about risk, so it sits quite naturally,” Drabble adds. “There’s a lot of overlap with the legal function, particularly in areas such as financial regulation and data protection, and I was keen to drive through a risk management culture.
“It didn’t come naturally to the company, because it was used to having an entrepreneurial approach.”
Drabble admits this means tackling the perception in some quarters within the business that he is essentially a business blocker.
“There’s a danger of getting that reputation,” he concedes. “The way round it is to develop good relationships and be able to explain why things are important.
“It helps that I have the support of our chief executive and the management team. It’s important to explain that these things can actually be enablers to the business.”
There is just one other lawyer in Drabble’s team, Mina Bhama. But including the compliance and risk teams, he oversees 11 staff. Given the size of the company’s turnover, which last year stood at £136m, it is a relatively small legal operation, but there are no plans to expand it.
Drabble and Bhama handle areas including commercial contracts, dispute resolution, acquisitions and disposals and shareholder arrangements in-house. Drabble is also responsible for compiling annual reports and organising AGMs.
But the limited size of the team means Drabble regularly outsources work such as employment, litigation and major corporate matters. He candidly admits that “we know what we can and can’t do”.
When he started at Moneysupermarket.com Drabble wanted to establish a formal legal panel, but that plan has since been dropped. The Chester-headquartered outfit now works with just two firms - Addleshaw Goddard and Herbert Smith.
“Things have sort of evolved organically,” he explains. “We started working with Addleshaw Goddard primarily because they have a reputation in areas important to us, like data protection, financial services regulation and litigation.”
The company already had a strong relationship with Herbert Smith when he arrived, and Drabble says it proved invaluable during the IPO. He continues to enjoy close ties with relationship partner Chris Haynes and will use the firm for all major corporate matters.
Drabble was also keen to work with a company that had a strong presence in the North West, and as a former corporate solicitor at Addleshaws the firm was a natural choice.
“I’ve been working with them for a couple of years now,” he says. “It started when they helped us on some employment work, and the relationship developed. It helps that I used to work there, so I know and trust them.
“We now have one firm in London and one in the North West, and that balance feels right.”
Name: Darren Drabble
Sector: Media/financial services
Position: General counsel and company secretary
Reporting to: Chief financial officer Paul Doughty
Legal capability: Two (11 including compliance and operational risk)
Annual legal spend: £100,000
External law firms: Addleshaw Goddard, Herbert Smith