After an absence of more than five months, Elizabeth Wall has just reappeared on the legal circuit, as the first-ever general counsel at telecommunications company Equant.
She left Cable & Wireless in March after nine years with the company. The move followed a reorganisation under a new chief executive officer, which saw her position as group director of legal and regulatory affairs disappear.
As one of the most well-known in-house lawyers, her move was met with surprise, especially when it became clear that she did not have a new job lined up.
This was a combination of circumstances guaranteed to whip the gossip mills into action, but Wall is keen to emphasise that there are no dark secrets to be revealed about her departure.
“After nine years with Cable & Wireless it was time for a change and it was nothing more unusual than that,” she says with a smile that defies further digging round the subject.
“I left and immediately went on holiday. When I came back I found that journalists had been ringing my friends trying to find out why I had left.
“But my friends didn’t know I had left, I had not had time to tell them. I told Cable & Wireless I was going, went on a pre-arranged holiday and had my leaving drinks when I came back.”
Wall maintains that she named her successor, Dan Fitz, and that the reorganisation provided a timely chance to move on. The question of whether she was offered the position of corporate general counsel that went to Fitz is deftly sidestepped.
If there were skeletons in the Cable & Wireless cupboard, Wall does not seem the type to open the door to them, and is well versed in deflecting enquiries by answering questions in the style of press released quotes.
While she is polite, she also puts up a defensive shield of cool professionalism and gives little away – Wall would not be the person to challenge to a game of poker.
Three days before she started her new job she refused to tell a fellow member of the Law Society Commerce & Industry Group where the job was, apart from that it was with a telecommunications company.
Compared to the high-profile Cable & Wireless, Equant is relatively unknown. It has just opened its flagship London headquarters near Savile Row, which looks remarkably like an upmarket kitchen showroom – full of pine and frosted glass.
Like Cable & Wireless, it is in the telecommunications industry, supplying seamless international managed data network services to multinational businesses.
It operates in 200 countries and, Wall says, supplies 20 per cent of the world’s top 1,000 companies.
To reiterate that she has not taken a career step down, Wall rings me the day after we meet to run me through Equant’s impressive statistics. “I am not interested in the size of the company, I am interested in the job itself,” she says.
Wall was introduced to the company through a mutual acquaintance after she had considered many different options.
“I was talking to a lot of people for quite a lot of time about all sorts of opportunities. When I left Cable & Wireless I told everyone that I would give some serious thought to what I wanted to do next and said that I would take six months off. I took five months and 29 days, I think.”
She seriously considered going back into private practice but she decided that returning to a corporate setting would be more exciting.
“This job allows me to call on my strengths to provide leadership in a company which is global and multi- faceted,” she says with not a trace of irony at the blatant corporate spin.
Wall is strangely reluctant to discuss some aspects of her new job, such as the number of in-house lawyers that she will be in charge of.
“I am still ascertaining the number of lawyers in the team, there is a fair smattering of lawyers across four business units. I would be reluctant to guess the number except to say that it is a larger number than I have managed before.”
Only 10 days into her new job, Wall says it is far too early to see where the challenges lie, but she is looking forward to building up a legal team like she did at Cable & Wireless.
“One of my previous colleagues at Cable & Wireless said that he was tempted over by my ‘I have a dream’ speech. I always have very clear-sighted vision, I decide what I am going to do and then I sell that vision to everyone else.”
Current president of the Law Society Commerce & Industry Group, Edward Smethurst, describes Wall as “a very formidable lady in every sense of the word”. He adds that the Commerce & Industry Group is going through constitutional changes designed to keep the “highly respected” Wall on the committee.
On a personal level, Smethurst says: “She is a very very good conversationalist, very bright. The other day I had a series of meetings in London and at the end of the day I had a two-hour meeting with Elizabeth, which seemed to last 10 minutes.”