As vice-president of Hasbro Europe’s legal team, Julia Runnacles’ job is not just fun and games – it’s also IP, safety regulations and a long list of upcoming Hollywood films.
It is the company behind some of the world’s best-known and best-selling toys. Mr Potato Head, GI Joe and Transformers all roll off the Hasbro production line, as well as cultural icons such as Monopoly and Scrabble.
According to the vice-president of Hasbro Europe’s legal team Julia Runnacles, the multinational’s ambitions now go well beyond producing toys, with the company in the process of “reimagining” many of the famed Hasbro brands.
The legal team plays a crucial role in this process, tasked with overcoming countless issues relating to IP, health and safety regulations and distribution.
“Traditionally we were seen as a toys and games company because we have such a large portfolio of brands in that area,” says Runnacles. “We now describe ourselves as a branded play company. We’re still rooted in toys and games, but we’re now exploiting our brands through a number of other platforms.”
One of the company’s latest and most high-profile forays has been into the movie industry. It has already collaborated on two highly lucrative Transformers films and several others are in the pipeline, including Monopoly.
“[Monopoly is] one of quite a few slated for production over the next two to three years. We’ve obviously already had the two very successful Transformers movies and there’s a third due for release next year,” she reveals. “There are also plans for another half-dozen films, including Monopoly, Battleship and Stretch Armstrong. We’ll always be a toy and games manufacturer, but entertainment’s a very good way of promoting our brands.”
For a company of its size – in 2009 it posted a revenue of $4bn (£2.6bn) – the legal team at Hasbro Europe is relatively small, with only four lawyers spread across its offices in London, Switzerland and France.
One of the biggest challenges they face is the raft of new regulations governing the toy and gaming industries, particularly those from Brussels.
“There are two key strategic areas in which we’re supporting the business,” explains Runnacles. “One is the expansion of the company into European emerging markets, where we recently set up offices in Russia and Romania. Second, it’s in supporting the growth of our core brands, particularly through extensions into adjacent business areas such as entertainment.
“The legal issues thrown up are really diverse, but IP is absolutely key and we have specialist IP lawyers. Having said that, the safety of our products is absolutely critical and we need to maintain our reputation for producing very safe products.
“These are very challenging areas and there’s obviously a lot of regulation coming out of Europe with implications for our products, and not only here in Europe, but also globally.”
Despite the small size of the legal team, as much work is kept in-house as possible, with Runnacles only using external advisers when she either lacks expertise in a particular area or lacks the manpower to handle large transactions.
While Hasbro does not have a formal panel, in the past it has called on the likes of Clifford Chance, Eversheds and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer for major transactional work, and in the UK the company also uses Denton Wilde Sapte and Wragge & Co.
Key criteria in selecting advisers are cost-effectiveness, pragmatism and commercial awareness, with firms considered to have an overly academic approach avoided.
Runnacles joined Hasbro from Kimberly-Clark in August 2006, but was not new to the entertainment industry, having previously enjoyed a five-year stint as director of business and legal affairs at Buena Vista Home Entertainment.
She also managed to fulfil a long-term goal or working in the travel services industry with a period as a tour guide before she became a lawyer.
Runnacles also spent several years working as an associate with Studio Legale Sutti in Milan. Her current position, which has seen the company make a big push in Europe’s emerging markets, allows plenty of opportunity to satisfy the travel bug.
“I do miss Italy,” she admits, “but all my jobs since then have enabled me to stay involved in the country, as well as getting great experience elsewhere.”
Name: Julia Runnacles
Organisation: Hasbro Europe
Position:Vice-president, European legal
Number of employees:5,800 (globally)
Total legal capability:Four (Europe)
Main external law firms:Clifford Chance, Eversheds, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer (Europe); Denton Wilde Sapte, Wragge & Co (UK)
Julia Runnacles’ CV
1986: BA, University College, Cardiff
1987: College Of Law, Guildford
Work history: 1987-89: Trainee, Payne Hicks Beach
1990-92: Legal adviser, International Management Group
1993-95: Associate, Studio Legale Sutti
1995-2000: Director, business and legal affairs, Buena Vista Home Entertainment
2000-02: General counsel, international (acquisitions), First Choice
2002-06 Senior international attorney, Europe, Kimberly-Clark
2006-present: Vice-president, European legal, Hasbro Europe