Gordon Stewart: Canon Europe

During the past three years Canon has been reforming its corporate structure across Europe. The Japanese-owned organisation has shifted its European strategic headquarters to a leafy business park near Heathrow and now operates on a Europe-wide basis rather than separately within each jurisdiction.

In the same period the legal department has undergone a similar transformation. General counsel Gordon Stewart has streamlined the way he and his fellow lawyers work and is continuing to look for things he can do to improve the interaction between the Canon legal team and the rest of the business.

“I think one of the things that’s made it easy for us in the legal group is that this has been a change across Canon Europe,” Stewart says. “I think if we’d been trying to do it on our own, that would have been a lot more difficult to achieve.”

The changes have seen a lot more coordination across Europe and between the teams. Stewart explains: “One of the drivers, right at the outset, has been drawing a roadmap for the legal group. What are the things that should drive us? Where do we add value?”Among the new systems implemented is a business partnership scheme between Canon’s different units and the legal team. Key senior figures within Canon all have a dedicated lawyer they can turn to.

“That gives the lawyer some management responsibility, because they’re responsible for that relationship,” says Stewart. He adds that the business partners idea is helping to keep Canon’s lawyers up to speed with what is going on in the business, so avoiding finding out about something too late.

Extra team-building and development activities have also been built in to the schedule. All of Canon Europe’s 22 lawyers now take part in two-day training schemes designed to improve non-legal skills and Stewart is also beginning to seek feedback from senior management about the effectiveness of the company’s lawyers, the way they communicate and how they give legal advice.

“It’ll make us become more aware and it helps us in terms of our profile within the company,” Stewart explains.

The changes within the Canon corporate structure have also given the legal team extra issues to deal with. Stewart says a particularly thorny one has been data protection. As the company has shifted into a pan-European organisation it has needed to share information such as employee data between jurisdictions – and this has not always been possible. Competition issues, such as those surrounding the distribution of goods, have also arisen on a regular basis.

“I think there must be more that we can do in terms of regulation to recognise the fact that the EU is there to promote cross-border transfer of goods and people,” says Stewart, pointing out that European directives are not always implemented correctly , or are implemented in very different ways in different places.

Acquisitions and contract law are also regular parts of Stewart’s work, with the legal department overseeing all of Canon’s general commercial issues.

The increasingly pan-European nature of Canon’s work is also impacting on its external advisers. In 2005 Stewart reduced his UK panel from more than 10 firms, deciding instead to work mainly with Eversheds and with Belgian independent Van Bael & Bellis for competition law.

In Europe, Canon’s lawyers have traditionally instructed local firms. Stewart has embarked on a country-by-country review, but is considering looking for law firms that can advise the company across the whole continent.

“We’re stepping back and thinking about choosing a pan-European partner. I’m still urging our external partners to think about meeting the challenge of a pan-European partnership,” he says.

Stewart is keen to keep instilling a strong business sense in his team, emphasising the fact that the legal department is a support function and is as key to the company’s growth as any other.

“You’re finding the ‘can-do’,” he points out, echoing Canon’s ‘You Can’ slogan. “Go with the positive alternatives and solutions, even if you then wish to list all the problem issues later on. We have to be attuned to the business.”

Gordon Stewart
Director and general counsel
Canon Europe

Organisation: Canon Europe
Sector: Technology
Turnover: €23.87bn (£12.23bn)

Employees: 100,000-plus worldwide
Legal capacity: Six (UK), 22 (Europe)
Director and general counsel: Gordon Stewart
Reporting to: Vice-president and chief legal officer Michio Suzuki

Main law firms: Eversheds
Gordon Stewart’s CV

1986-89 – Staffordshire University (LLB)
Work history:
1991 – joined Canon UK, ultimately becoming legal affairs manager;

2000-01 – Lucent Technologies, business manager;

2001 – rejoined Canon Europe as European legal manager;

2003 – appointed as director and general counsel