Nomura Emea head of corporate legal: Weather the storm

Chris Barlow, Nomura’s Emea head of corporate legal, relishes a challenge, having seen the Japanese bank through global expansion and recent cutbacks

Chris Barlow

Chris Barlow

Title: Managing director, head of corporate legal, Europe, the Middle East and Africa (Emea)

Industry: Banking

Reporting to: Piers Le Marchant, general counsel, Emea

Employees: 4,000 (across Emea)

Legal capability: Around 90 (across Emea)

Chris Barlow has something to say and, as he bundles into the room a few minutes late for our meeting at Nomura’s Angel Lane HQ in the City, it’s obvious he wants to spill the beans.

One of his legal team has just become a dad for the second time, but this is not the news.

“He delivered the baby himself,” says a visibly amazed Barlow. That’s what you call multi-skilling.

Barlow has just got off the phone from hearing the good news, hence the tardiness. It’s all too tempting to segue from a talented new father to one of Barlow’s favourite themes as one of Nomura’s senior lawyers.

Chipping in

“You have to be flexible when you’re working in-house,” he says. “It’s true I want experts but I also want the people in my team to be able to roll up their sleeves and help out in a range of areas.”

Barlow, clearly, is referring to the range of legal work his team handles. His team forms part of the Europe, the Middle East and Africa (Emea) legal group headed by general counsel Piers Le Marchant. The Emea legal team is around 90 strong, 75 in London, with around 50 lawyers in total. Barlow’s division – corporate – consists of a team of 13 staff including nine lawyers along with four members based in India.

In this case ‘corporate’ does not refer to transactional matters.

“It means we do the nuts and bolts stuff that keeps the doors of this place open,” jokes Barlow. “That can include litigation, third-party contracts, IP and IT matters, procurement, employment, real estate and company secretarial matters.”

Barlow trained at Simmons & Simmons where he worked as a litigator until a secondment to GlaxoSmithKline, where he practised primarily company and commercial law, broadened his horizons. Shortly after returning to Simmons he got a call from Nomura.

“I realised it would give me the opportunity to do both litigation and commercial work,” says Barlow.

One of the biggest changes and most challenging periods for Barlow at Nomura came in 2008 when the Japanese bank ramped up its presence in Europe and the US by acquiring the European and Asian arms of Lehman Brothers.

“It was a fascinating time,” recalls Barlow. “While other banks were imploding we were taking a step forward. It gave us much more scope and size, and access to new markets. It allowed Nomura to go to the next level.”

Cutting comments

This acquisition was instrumental in creating what Barlow describes as “the new Nomura”, but jump forward four years and all is not so rosy. Indeed, the past few months have been a turbulent time for Nomura. The bank is currently mid-way through a $1bn cost-cutting exercise that has seen cuts to its equities and investment banking units. Barlow insists that none of the members of his team have been made redundant as a result of the restructuring.

At a global level, the bank’s head of legal and general counsel for wholesale David Graham recently left after just a year.

“David did a fabulous job, but decided the time was right to move on,” is Barlow’s comment.

An engaging interviewee, Barlow is nevertheless much happier talking about the steps he takes to ensure the people in his team do not think of themselves as siloed in terms of the legal work they handle.

“One of the things I learned from [former Nomura general counsel, now at Barclays] Mark Chapman was to encourage people with different specialisms to work together, either as a result of specific objectives or by getting them to work in teams,” he says. “Your team has to get to know the business and its people, and you can’t do that by sitting at your desk pinging off emails.”

One of the most visible ways this happens at Nomura is in its programme of weekly Wednesday morning lectures. Each week the bank invites a lawyer from one of its panel firms to come in and present on a topical subject.

“For the firms it’s a great way of getting to know and understand our business, and build relationships,” adds Barlow. “This is a two-way street.”

Nomura’s Emea panel consists of seven firms. All four UK global giants – Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Linklaters – are present, as are Travers Smith, Ashurst and Mayer Brown, the sole US firm and the most recent addition to the line-up, two years ago.

“Our last panel review was in 2010,” says Barlow, adding that there is nothing in the pipeline “but we keep an eye on our relationships all the time.”

Barlow admits the risk of conflicts is always a factor, particularly in the financial services sector, but says good communication between the bank and its panel firms generally avoids major problems. He adds that all panel firms are expected to offer a range of pricing options, including fixed fees.

“They have to,” admits Barlow. “We expect best value. It’s part and parcel of the relationship. You have to build relationships to understand how far you can go, but ultimately it’s about getting value for Nomura.”

Michael Shaw

Michael Shaw

Deputy general counsel, Barclays

Barclays’ 1,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) legal function is split both geographically (mostly in the UK and the US) and into business units (retail and business banking, wealth and investment management, and corporate and investment banking etc).

I’m responsible for the head office teams (M&A, competition, litigation and investigations, employment and the general counsel’s office) and report to our general counsel, Mark Harding.

As a member of the function’s leadership committee and chair of its operations committee, I also help to fashion and implement strategy for the function as a whole.

My insight into these issues has recently been deepened by joining Barclays’ execution and operations committee.

In the three years since I arrived, I’ve seen a great deal of change affecting Barclays, some of it developed from within, including the extraordinary rise in our investment banking capabilities following the acquisition of the North American operations of Lehman Brothers. Other developments have resulted from external factors.

However, we have a wealth of talent in our legal function and this allows us to face with confidence the challenges of implementing changes flowing from major legislation such as Dodd-Frank or the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or as a result of the findings of the Independent Commission on Banking.

At the same time we will be helping to improve the risk control framework of the organisation, protecting the bank and its reputation.

David Christie

David Christie

Global head of legal, Renaissance Capital

Since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 we have been working in a highly charged, competitive and energetic environment facing ever-increasing and ever-more challenging regulation.

When coupled with the inherent risks of working in emerging markets it’s clear this is a demanding, dynamic and exciting sector – and certainly not one for the faint-hearted.

Headquartered in Moscow, Renaissance Capital is an investment bank focusing on M&A, equity and debt capital markets, and structured derivatives in Central and Eastern Europe, Africa, Central Asia and other high-opportunity markets.

Based in London, but with a legal team of 20 staff working out of multiple jurisdictions, I assess, manage and structure legal risk for the bank’s transactions and general dealings, and advise senior management accordingly.

Although my team is required to give advice rapidly and accurately we are mindful of the wider repercussions of every decision. Fortunately, we have a strong group of commercially minded lawyers whose legal opinions are sought at the inception of deals which, as any lawyer will testify, makes our lives easier. One of my key roles is to be the sounding board for these opinions to ensure accuracy and consistency.

Investment banking is changing forever, with a bank’s cost base clearly the focus – a focus that, in my opinion, is well overdue in this industry.

The policies and procedures implemented now must remain in place for years to come if we are to turn around the perceptions of our industry.