Organisation: Spencer Collins
Firm: SB Management (an investment manager of SoftBank Group Corp.)
Role: General Counsel of SB Management
Trained at: Allen & Overy
Year qualified: 2009
What’s your most vivid memory from being a trainee?
Almost blowing up my qualification prospects by getting lost in the pitch dark off the beaten track in Abu Dhabi when attempting to give the firm’s then London head of corporate, Richard Browne, a lift to his hotel! I still remember his exact words when, after taking a wrong turn, the road started to slowly disappear and turn into sand as we headed into what genuinely looked like the desert in the pitch dark: “I’ve never been to Abu Dhabi before, but I’m bloody convinced you’re going the wrong way! ” Not the best first interaction with the practice group head, but thankfully he didn’t hold a grudge – I went onto qualify into the London M&A team where I worked with Richard on a number of projects – and he was instrumental in helping me bag a 12-month secondment to Fenwick & West in California (which turned out to be a major springboard in my career).
What is the wisest thing anyone ever said to you (and who said it)?
After reviewing a client note I had drafted, the legendary Gordy Davidson of Fenwick & West said to me “It’s too long. If you can’t explain it very simply in one sentence, you don’t understand it well enough“. That feedback has had a major impact on the way I’ve approached providing legal advice ever since – short sentences/bullets in plain and simple English! I developed so much during my secondment to Fenwick, largely due to Gordy, Kris Withrow, Doug Cogen, Mark Stevens, Ralph Pais and Greg Roussell – all of whom I worked directly with and/or were kind enough to take an interest in my career and spend time advising me.
Who (for better or worse) has been the most influential person in your career? Why?
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with and benefit from a number of amazing operators and mentors in my career to-date, but if I had to choose, I would say during my time in private practice, Ian Bagshaw from White & Case, and during my time in finance/in-house, Rajeev Misra and Akshay Naheta.
Ian understands the business of law better than anyone I’ve come across and has built a fantastic business at White & Case. His tenacity, client service and desire to win work is second to none. I learned more about client service and how to build a profitable practice in 12 months working with Ian than I did in the rest of my entire legal career. We still catch-up frequently – he’s been a great mentor. In an earlier stage of my legal career, Kris Withrow at Fenwick also had a big influence. He gave me significant responsibility on deals very early on in my secondment to Fenwick and taught me the ‘Silicon Valley way’ of doing things. This gave me an edge when I returned to London.
I was lucky enough to join the investment manager, SoftBank Investment Advisers (SBIA), of the world’s largest technology-focused investment fund, SoftBank Vision Fund, shortly after it launched. This was an amazing opportunity and from day one, I had a seat at the table with the investment team structuring and negotiating some of the most high-profile deals in the market. Rajeev MIsra (CEO of SBIA) was kind enough to take an interest in my career and after working together offered me a position in the investment team of SBIA (which I accepted). This sort of opportunity does not come about very often for lawyers, and my experience as an investor in the front office expanded my skills set dramatically, improved my network and made me a much better adviser. I’ll always be grateful to him for that.
Another SoftBank executive that has been influential in my progression is Akshay Naheta. During my time at SBIA, I worked very closely with Akshay on multiple investments and projects, and when he decided to leave SBIA as a Managing Partner to work directly with Masayoshi Son as Senior Vice President, Investments, of SBG and CEO of SB Management (SBG’s asset management business), I accepted the offer to join him as General Counsel of SB Management and to work closely with him and the management of SBG on other strategic projects for SBG. My first task in the job was to set up SB Management from scratch and help the team to start making significant investments, my second task was to work as part of an incredibly lean team on leading SoftBank’s largest ever transaction; selling Arm to Nvidia for up to $40bn. I simply wouldn’t be in the position I am today at SoftBank if it wasn’t for Akshay’s confidence in me and the opportunities that he has sent my way.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get to where you are/do the job you do? There is no substitute for hard work. Make the most of rare opportunities. Don’t be afraid to take risks.
From the moment I decided I wanted to be a lawyer, I knew I would have to work harder than most. I had to self-fund my university education and therefore attend university on a part-time evening basis while holding down a full-time job at a large technology company. I’d leave home at 7am, work until 5pm and then commute into London to attend university before finally getting home around midnight. There were times when walking the 30-minute walk back home from the train station around midnight in the pouring rain while carrying a ton of law books, I questioned whether the effort would pay off – especially when all my friends were out enjoying themselves! Thankfully, it did as I somehow managed to graduate with the grade I wanted and land a training contract at A&O. Susan Hazledine, graduate recruitment partner at A&O at the time, took a real risk on me given my ‘unconventional’ background and path to law – I will always be grateful to her and her team for giving me such an amazing opportunity. I still remember the sense of achievement I felt when I received the call from A&O confirming that they were offering me a training contract.
When I arrived at A&O, I worked very hard and gained experience beyond my level of qualification. My real break came around the time when I turned 3 years’ PQE and was offered a much-coveted secondment to Fenwick. I knew that was a great opportunity and I stepped well beyond my comfort zone to make the most of it. I was often asked why I was working so hard as a secondee when I should be enjoying the California lifestyle – but I was acutely aware of the opportunity to become a trusted adviser to some of the world’s leading tech players and I wasn’t going to let that pass me by. My hard work paid off; when I returned to London I continued to be instructed directly by Fenwick and many Silicon Valley-based clients and carved-out the exact sort of practice that I had aspired to during my time in California.
Another great opportunity for me was SoftBank. I joined SBIA on secondment from White & Case with the sole intention of converting them as a client. However, after playing a leading role on a $1bn investment in Roivant, a EUR460 million investment in Auto1 and a $7.7bn investment in Uber, I was offered a permanent position with SBIA. I knew this was a great opportunity and ultimately it would open more doors than it would close, but it did mean giving-up partnership at a law firm. I discussed it at length with Ian Bagshaw. His advice: “if you don’t take this opportunity, I will!“. I decided to grab the SoftBank opportunity with both hands, and I’ve benefited from a lot of good fortune ever since. I built-up and managed the EMEA Investment Legal team and was promoted to partner in March 2019. In October 2019, I was promoted to partner in the investment team and last year I became general counsel of SB Management. Passing-up the opportunity to become a partner in a large law firm to join a newly established fund was a risk, but it was a calculated one that, with the benefit of hindsight and some good advice along the way, I’m glad I took.
I have no idea where my career will take me over the next few years, but I do know that I’ll continue to work hard, make the most of rare opportunities and not be afraid to take calculated risks.
What’s your best friend from law school doing now?
Running his own law firm in Sydney!