The World Is Quite enough

It’s never easy learning the in-house all-rounder approach, but when you’re head of legal for The Economist Group Oscar Grut and you’re taking on media mogul and heavyweight politician Silvio Berlusconi in a libel case, you know you’ve got your work cut out. Perry Thakrar reports



The Economist Group is one of the leading sources of analysis on international business and world affairs. Each week, the group’s publications and services reach an audience of over six million around the world.

The core of the group is its flagship newspaper The Economist. Established in 1843, the company’s literature boasts that admirers of the publication have included Queen Victoria, Mussolini, Helmut Schmidt and John F Kennedy. And for years there has been speculation about who receives the solitary copy allowed into Cuba.

Aged 32, Oscar Grut has had a meteoric rise within the Economist Group – in just three years he has been promoted to the position of group general counsel, with full responsibility for the provision of worldwide legal services to the group.

Grut joined the group in 1998 from Linklaters & Alliance as assistant legal counsel and in 2000 was promoted to senior legal counsel. He now reports directly to Kiran Malik, the group’s finance director. The group’s in-house team comprises Grut and assistant legal counsel Asahi Pompey.

One of Grut’s first tasks will be to handle the libel suit against The Economist by Italian media holding company Fininvest over an article about its founder Silvio Berlusconi. As well as being a media tycoon, Berlusconi is the leader of the Forza Italia political party and a candidate for prime minister in the Italian general election held yesterday (13 May). The article discussed Berlusconi’s leadership attributes and potential conflict with his business interests, which range from television, publishing, advertising, banking and the ownership of Italian football team AC Milan.

“This a good example of the types of issues we have to deal with on a regular basis,” says Grut. “Fortunately, our journalists are meticulous when it comes to researching and writing articles. Therefore, we stand by the story published in The Economist.” He refuses to comment any further on the case.

On the day-to-day running of the in-house legal department, Grut says that only 10 per cent of the work is outsourced. The major proportion of the department’s work comes from the corporate side and from dealing with commercial issues such as content licensing, employment, litigation, property and other media-related issues.

Grut says: “We try to do as much as we possibly can in-house, and usually only highly specialised work will be outsourced. Even then it’s only work that we can’t handle in-house because it’s either too specialised or too bulky.

“The exceptions, and the areas that we nearly always outsource, are libel and pre-publication review. Jane Anderson at Crockers Oswald Hickson looks after that for us.”

Crockers will almost certainly be involved in the legal action over the Berlusconi article published in The Economist.

Other firms used by the group include Linklaters, which looks after corporate issues. The main contacts there are Anthony Cann and Mark Stamps. Harbans Chohan is the main contact at Campbell Hooper, the firm used mainly for property-related issues.

The Economist Group owns two sites in central London and rents out premises to third parties, which provides a valuable source of income for the company.

In the US, Grut deals with Charles Ingross from Morgan Lewis & Bockius. Laura Handman, first amendment (freedom of speech) lawyer at Davis Wright Tremaine looks after all the US libel issues on behalf of the company.

For Grut, there are clear benefits to working in-house. “What drove me in-house was that I wanted to work more closely with clients and in a more commercial environment,” he says. “I wanted to be in a position where I could be more pragmatic than I think you can be as a lawyer in private practice. I also wanted a more varied workload.

“I had to completely change my focus when I joined three years ago from Linklaters, where I was working in the corporate department dealing mainly with mergers and acquisitions. On my arrival here, I had to reposition myself as more of a generalist, which was a real challenge.”

Grut is keen to stress that work is outsourced whenever necessary. “You have to recognise your limitations and call in outside help whenever it’s required,” he says.

Grut says he values the work ethic in evidence at the Economist Group. It allows him to spend more time with his family, which is particularly important as he has two young children. “This position has given me the opportunity to strike the right balance between my career and my personal life, and it’s one of the perks of working for the Economist Group,” he says.

Grut has also had to deal with the changing trends in the publishing world and the impact of the online revolution. He says: “The traditional print world hasn’t only been concerned about the evolution of the electronic media and its impact on sales of newspapers and magazines, but also the risk of online content being copied because it’s so easy to do.

“We’re a small team but I think we cope quite well with all issues. The group has diversified significantly in recent years and so it’s been a busy department. The company has moved from being a traditional print publisher to a business that’s expanding its portfolio of publications as well as launching online products, such as economist.com, to keep up with the trends in the market.

“Strategically, the group is focusing on building its core brands such as The Economist, and my main role is to help nurture and develop these new projects. It’s exciting for the group and myself, as we’re always on the lookout for opportunities to expand and build the business.”

Grut says there are no plans to expand the in-house team. In the coming weeks, his attention will be firmly focused on the Berlusconi libel suit, which has already generated considerable media attention. n

The economist group breakdown

The Economist

Published since 1843, The Economist is a weekly publication dealing with mainly business and political issues. Printed in six countries and published on the internet (www.economist.com), 80 per cent of its circulation is outside the UK.

Editorial independence is at the heart of its success. The constitution of the company does not permit any organisation or individual to gain a majority shareholding, and the editor is appointed by a board of trustees.

CFO

Chief Financial Officer (CFO) is a business magazine targeting senior executives with financial responsibility. Published monthly in the US, Europe and Asia, CFO’s editorial emphasis is on providing in-depth strategic information covering key topics, ranging from core financial practices to up-to-date information in e-business.

The group’s website boasts that more than a million executives worldwide access CFO in print, online and face-to-face at conferences and seminars.

EIU

The Economist Intelligent Unit (EIU) is a business information provider for companies establishing and managing operations.

It is a worldwide operation with offices in Cambridge (US), Hong Kong, London, New York, Singapore and Vienna.

The provider’s intelligence is based on regular contributions from a global network of more than 500 information specialists. The unit delivers information in a number of formats, including print, CD-ROM and on online services such as www.eiu.com and www.ebusinessforum.com.

The group also publishes a number of specialist publications, including the Journal of Commerce.
Oscar Grut
Head of legal
The Economist Group

Statistics
Organisation The Economist Group
Sector Media
Market Capitalisation £550m
Employees 15,000 worldwide
Legal Capability One lawyer and one legal assistant
Head of legal Oscar Grut
Reporting to Group finance director Kiran Malik
Main location for lawyers London
Main law firms Campbell Hooper, Crockers Oswald Hickson, Linklaters & Alliance and Willoughby & Partners in the UK; Davis Wright Tremaine and Morgan Lewis & Bockius in the US