Top of the World: Elizabeth Shurdom, WorldPay
16 May 2011
Since Advent and Bain took WorldPay off RBS’s hands Elizabeth Shurdom has assumed a whole new level of responsibility. But as James Swift finds, the GC’s enthusiasm has kept pace with
the company’s rate of expansion
Ever since The Lawyer published a story about card-payment processor WorldPay putting together its first legal panel since breaking off from RBS (4 April), the company’s general counsel and company secretary Elizabeth Shurdom has been flooded with pitches.
“[I’ve] been a little besieged by firms,” says Shurdom. “But that’s a good thing at this stage.”
It is no surprise that firms are clamouring to be on WorldPay’s panel. When it was still part of RBS the bank described WorldPay (then RBS WorldPay) as the largest payment processor in Europe and the fourth-largest in the US. In 2009 the company generated an operating profit of £249m.
RBS only divested the company because it was forced to, as a consequence of taking state aid during the financial crisis. The auction was hard fought, attracting six advanced bidders, including CVC Capital Partners and American Express. Private equity houses Advent International and Bain Capital won the day, paying around £2bn for an 80.01 per cent stake in WorldPay in November 2010, with RBS retaining a 19.09 per cent interest.
Now, under its new private equity owners, WorldPay has been injected with a fresh zeal to expand, develop new technologies and move into new jurisdictions.
And while Shurdom now has quite a task on her hands, sorting through applications and assembling a panel, she has had plenty of time to get used to the frantic pace, having spent
the past few months helping the company navigate its handover, building its in-house function from scratch and reducing outside counsel spend by 80 per cent, or nearly £1m.
Yet there is not a trace of fatigue in her voice - quite the opposite. She speaks with infectious enthusiasm, genuinely chuffed to have the opportunity to build an in-house team from the ground up and keen to shed any remaining perceptions that general counsel are there just to nix risky business ideas.
“I think it’s important to tackle the residual idea that internal legal functions are just a business prevention unit,” states Shurdom. “If there’s an obstacle, we need to find a way around it; if we challenge something the business does, then we should find a way around the problem and be creative, but in a compliant way.”
Shurdom began her career as a commercial barrister at New Court Chambers, the set of the late eminent QC George Carman.
“I then moved in-house to RBS, where I was deputy head of the group commercial legal team,” relates Shurdom. “Although in my last three years there I was put on a legal role, post-[the] ABN [Amro merger], to manage the legal function of various different businesses for RBS.”
One of those businesses was WorldPay. Since moving with the company into private equity ownership her job has been, on top of developing the legal department, to keep the business running as smoothly as possible. During the divestment Shurdom brought in a team from Axiom Law’s managed services division to help.
“My job’s been to make sure that what needs to happen at the business level happens,” reveals Shurdom. “For instance, making sure corporate lawyers were getting the subtle nuances of the business.”
As if that were not enough, WorldPay’s new owners have been content to throw a few additional challenges her way.
“A big challenge for me has been to match the business stride for stride,” admits Shurdom. “The business is being challenged by the new owners and I have to make sure that it’s business as usual and that we’re quick to respond to new growth.
“Within weeks of being sold to Advent and Bain, WorldPay acquired a new business [UK credit and debit card-processing company Cardsave], and that’s a fast timeline.
“Also, the company’s looking at new markets, and so the challenge for me is, how do I resource a business model that can launch in a new country? Do I need local lawyers? Do we need experts going forward? The business is moving in all directions.”
Now, after building a 20-strong legal department in the UK (with seven lawyers in the US), Shurdom is looking at what she wants from an external panel of law firms. One thing is clear: there will be no room for firms that do not share her enthusiasm for the business.
“If you start from a position of technical excellence then, as a lawyer, you can be creative and be seen as a business partner,” says Shurdom.
“I’ve had experiences where my department’s been seen just as a ’sign off’, which was frustrating for me and so different from my experience at the bar.
“I want to do it all over again. I want to demonstrate that, if done right, internal legal functions do nothing but add value.”
Name: Elizabeth Shurdom
Industry: Financial services
Position: Interim general counsel
Reporting to: CEO Ron Kalífa
Legal capability:26 lawyers and two paralegals
Legal spend:Approximately £250,000