Telly vision: Gordon Finlayson, Showtime Arabia
5 January 2009
There are several examples of lawyers dabbling in journalism, but you rarely hear of it happening the ;other ;way around.
Showtime Arabia legal director Gordon Finlayson, then, is one of a rare breed – a journalist turned lawyer.
Finlayson started off as a technology journalist before going over to CNET Networks to edit the media company’s websites in Australia while studying for his LLB.
While in Sydney he indulged in his other great passion of music, running a small record label on the side. “It was interesting, but a completely financially unprofitable project,” he admits.
It was at broadband service provider Excite@Home that he started doing legal work after being brought on board to help develop broadband content during the first internet boom. The work, however, was not as exciting as the company’s name would suggest, and mostly involved licensing content and the rollout of broadband products.
Finlayson’s true passion for law, however, was sparked when he moved to London in 2002. “I managed to marry my interest in music and the law through my role with Warner/Chappell Music, before moving on to work in rights management and licensing with brand agency The Licensing Company in Kensington,” explains Finlayson.
Having since moved to Dubai to work at Showtime, one of the leading pay-TV networks in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), Finlayson now manages a legal team of two other lawyers – Patricia Lotte, who has 12 years’ experience in Dubai, and former Paul Weiss lawyer Pooja Dua.
Together the trio deals with the drafting and negotiation of most commercial ;agreements ;for Showtime, which produces 20 channels airing shows ranging from Desperate Housewives to Barclays Premier League football matches. Other work is sometimes farmed out to law firms, depending on the capacity within the in-house team.
“Clyde & Co looks after ongoing work such as trademark registrations, and also advises us on occasional contentious matters, banking agreements, corporate structuring matters and technology-related matters,” says Finlayson. “We have a longstanding relationship with Clyde & Co in Dubai, who’ve built up an excellent reputation in Dubai over the years, building quite a separate profile to that of the parent in UK.
“We use US firm Baker Botts and their local partner Mohanned S
Al-Rasheed for work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where they have a solid practice and have been very effective in navigating the complex legal environment in that market.”
Being a Cayman Islands-registered company, Showtime also instructs Maples & Calder to look after the company secretarial matters and issues relating to Cayman law.
Finlayson explains that his company does not have a formal panel but regularly uses local firms in the Showtime territories for specific issues on a national basis, including employment, corporate, piracy or criminal matters.
“The practicalities involved in such areas of law mean that, when it comes to work in particular national jurisdictions, we’re often unable to get appropriate advice at a reasonable cost from UK or US firms and it’s more appropriate to go directly to local counsel,” says Finlayson.
In Egypt Finlayson says he has an excellent relationship with Sharkawy & Sarhan, where partner Jim Wright has been looking after Showtime for a number of years.
Healthy competition in the Mena region from pay-TV operators such as Orbit, ART and Al Jazeera Sports means the Showtime legal team has an important role in ensuring that the company can exploit its rights in a flexible manner that differentiates it from its competitors.
“As a company operating across 24 countries, Showtime faces different challenges in each country we operate in,” says Finlayson. “Lawyers operating in these regions need to be flexible and responsive to national markets and the challenges of particular regional areas, whether that’s in the Gulf, the Levant or East or North Africa.”
Finlayson’s devotion to Showtime has cemented his position in the legal sphere, although he still keeps his journalistic hand in by writing music and technology reviews.
Showtime should not have any fears about Finlayson returning to journalism, though, as he insists he has now found the “right career combination”.
Name: Gordon Finlayson
Organisation: Showtime Arabia
Position: Director of legal
Reporting to: Chief finance officer Olivier Sage
Number of employees: 800
Legal capability: Three
Legal spend: £100,000-£300,000
Main law firms: Ali Sharif Zu’bi Law Office (Jordan), Baker Botts (Saudi Arabia), Clyde & Co (regional), Maples
& Calder (Cayman Islands), Saba & Co (United Arab Emirates), Sharkawy & Sarhan (Egypt)
Gordon Finlayson’s CV
1991-94: BA Comm (Hons),
University of Canberra
1997-99: LLB, University of New South Wales
2004-05: GDL/QLTT, College of Law, Sydney
2005-07: LLM, University College London
Work history: 1996–98: Editor/managing editor, CNET Networks, Australia
1998-2001: Senior producer, Excite@Home
2001-02: External affairs manager, Australian Legal Information Institute
2002-03: Business affairs manager, Warner/Chappell Music
2003-06: Business affairs manager, The Licensing Company
2006-present: Legal counsel, then director of legal, Showtime Arabia