As part of our 60-second interview series, TMG general counsel Ryan Swann talks to The Lawyer about expanding your influence within the business as a GC, how COVID-19 has allowed strong legal teams to shine even brighter and about his “keep it simple” mantra.
How can GCs expand their influence within the business?
Wanting to be part of the business, not merely an advisor to it is the starting point. GCs that go outside of their comfort zone, make business decisions and are happy to give their view on matters not just pure legal work – controversial or not – will be the ones that create a greater influence. In an increasingly digital world, simply catching up with all areas of the business to find out what’s going on, what they are struggling with and what’s helping them win is still fundamental. Try setting aside time each week to have a “virtual” coffee with someone that you usually only speak with when you have work on with them. It will show them you care. Selfishly it will also help you understand future workflow and priorities to remain proactive. And be more analytical. Other areas are data driven and legal teams should be no different. Having the skill set and tools to articulate this with your peers in the business is very important.
In your view, has COVID-19 changed or influenced perceptions around what the right size of a legal function should be?
I think COVID-19 has allowed a strong legal team to shine even brighter. It has created uncertainty and lawyers are traditionally used to dealing with uncertainty and problem solving on a daily basis. I don’t think it has necessarily changed the size of the teams but I think it will change the role and skill sets. My experience is that in times of crisis, the legal team is front and centre of leading a business through it. This usually means taking responsibility for areas not within their normal remit – risk, governance, business resilience planning, supplier oversight. I think this goes back to creating influence and the business’ confidence to put these things into your hands. For me, this means that the legal team of the future will have a greater remit for risk and governance in ensuring business strategy is not sent off track by unknown risks.
The vast amount of regulatory change on the horizon can be overwhelming for most in-house teams. What is your advice on tools and processes that can help legal functions better manage regulatory risk?
Working in the payments and financial services sector, regulatory change, risk and horizon scanning are definitely words I’m very familiar with! Keeping on top of this can be daunting but my advice is to keep it simple, use technology to help you where possible and have a good process to track what actually impacts you. We found that we could spend several days a month in the team trying to sift through the alerts, bulletins and articles then add these to a spreadsheet with lots of detail and dates. We re-evaluated, looked at what data feeds were available and developed a system to understand what was relevant to us so we could summarise the key impact. Displaying this visually as what could help support our business and customers through regulatory initiatives helped when socialising internally. It’s now more useful to the business and less time for us. A win win! We are now starting the same with risk management generally, using technology and data, with our ongoing mantra – keep it simple.
What is your favourite book and why?
Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. The story of how Nike was formed fascinated me. It really cemented by belief that keeping things simple, having passion for what you do, never standing still and recognising that there is risk that always has to be managed in any part of business is critical to success. You’ve also got to be bold sometimes too.