Running Lyca dream: Mohammed Malique, Lycamobile and Lycatel

As general counsel of Lycamobile and Lycatel, Mohammed Malique knows exactly when to place that all-important call to external lawyers.

Mohammed Malique
Mohammed Malique

It is good to talk, says Mohammed Malique.

As general counsel of ­Lycamobile and Lycatel he may be biased – the ­companies he works for are ­running a booming trade in ­connecting people over a phoneline – but he means specifically in the legal sense.

Since Malique joined in 2004, he has watched the ­companies’ turnovers grow from zero in 2003 to e700m (£604.65m) last year.

“It was quite refreshing to find companies that had an agenda to be a global leader at what they did,” says Malique, who is enthused by the growth they have achieved.

The main bulk of the companies’ revenues comes from its Lycamobile and Lycatel products.

Lycamobile is a mobile virtual ­network operator (MVNO) that sells international prepaid sim cards to people wanting to make calls abroad. Without delving into too much technobabble, an MVNO leases radio frequency from mobile phone operators.

This means it has to form ­partnerships with the world’s mobile operators. Over the past 12 months Lycamobile has launched in Italy, ­following similar launches in The Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark and the UK. Lycamobile now has more than five million pay-as-you-go customers.

The companies’ calling card business (under its Lycatel brand) sells cards to ­expatriate customers who want to make low-cost international calls, handling 1.7 ­million calls daily.

Its legal team is split in two, with Malique acting as overall general counsel and ­assisted by ­former Virgin Mobile legal head Stephen Lodge, who ­oversees the mobile side of the business.

Despite being based in London, the companies’ – and therefore the legal teams’ – work is ­predominantly international.

Malique estimates that roughly 80 per cent of the legal work takes place outside the UK – a fact he relishes.

“When you’re working in private practice, you’re not really exposed to international law. In private ­practice you’re mostly doing UK law. But from an in-house perspective the client doesn’t distinguish from UK, French, Spanish…”

The types of issues the team faces are typical of any telecommunications company’s, such as competition, ­corporate and commercial, ­distribution and regulatory.

In preparing a ’package’ for his commercial colleagues working on pitches or launches, Malique ­sometimes approaches external accountancy firms for advice. He believes that opening up a dialogue with other professional ­services firms is part of a “growing trend” in the UK, one that he is fully in favour of.

But for more standard legal work, he turns to law firms.

“If it’s UK law then we see if we can handle it in-house, if not then we’ll go to someone who can help.”

And for that, Malique picks up the phone. While external panels may work for ­general counsels at other companies, Malique is not so keen. Instead, he has built up a ­network of partners at firms across Europe who he can call for an ­informal chat. ­Discussions often lead into work for the firms ­further down the line.

“We have a loose working ­relationship with our external lawyers. I call them on an informal basis and when the work comes in they can hit the ground running.”

It is a two-way street, says Malique, who adds that he is “lucky” to have such a network in place. Malique’s lawyers will often let him know what is happening in the market where they are.

“If they pick up something in the market then they give me a call.

It means I can pre-empt what’s ­happening in that market and if there’s work to be had at a later date, they might get it. It pays dividends to be in touch this way.”

Name: Mohammed Malique

Title: General counsel

Organisation:Lycatel and Lycamobile


Company turnover:e700m (£604.65m)

Number of ­employees: 1500

Legal capability:Seven in-house solicitors, two paralegals

Main external law firms:Kemp Little, Simons Muirhead & Burton, Simmons & Simmons, Osborne Clarke

Legal spend: £1m

Mohammed Malique’s CV


1992-95: LLB (Hons), University of Cardiff

1995-96: LPC, University of Cardiff

1996-98: Postgraduate diploma in ­Professional Skills for Solicitors, Cambridge University

Work history:

1996-98: Trainee, Edward Harris & Son, Swansea

1998-99: Assistant, Edward Harris & Son, Swansea

1999-2003: Assistant, Powell & Company, London 2003-04: Partner, City Law Partnership

2004-present: General counsel, Lycatel and Lycamobile