Nationwide GC: Mutual benefits

A focus on training pays off for Nationwide GC Liz Kelly, as high-quality lawyers stay on board to help her guide the building society forward

Many a manager says their focus is on helping their staff learn, but few back up the cliché with a meaty example. The general counsel of Nationwide Building Society Liz Kelly, on the other hand, is not one for fluff. She wants high-performing staff to become future leaders and she doesn’t waste any time getting down to it.

“Even through the credit crisis we decided to focus on leadership,” Kelly says, talking about her Nationwide legal academy, which launched 18 months ago. “We’ve just had nine people graduate from the programme. It’s about teaching them to be authentic leaders, not change their personalities.”

The academy is aimed at high-performers with 4-8 years’ PQE –  lawyers who, by this point, “have the technical bit under their belt” and may be wondering if being general counsel is the career goal for them.

“Some at a more junior level didn’t understand what I did all day, so [as part of the academy] we did a lot of shadowing,” explains Kelly. “It was interesting that some people said to me, “it’s a bit like being a managing director of a company, isn’t it?”

Liz Kelly

Learning on the job

Indeed, the aim of the academy is not to swallow a shelfload of textbooks. Those on the course, whose work for Nationwide continues as usual while they are at the academy, are encouraged to get together on a regular basis to discuss their training sessions and workshops, where sessions range from an hour to a full day.

This is all good experience for the rising stars who make it onto the course, but what about the other in-housers? After all, Kelly manages a sizeable team of around 50, including three trainees.

When asked this question Kelly, who was appointed general counsel in 2007, reels off a list of training opportunities – breakfast briefings, e-learning modules, workshops, mentoring, secondment opportunities and rotations between departments.

“I’m very keen on moving people around between teams,” she enthuses about the last item on her list. “I’m much more likely to want to promote people who haven’t focused on mortgages all their lives, but have done other stuff. Legal and compliance are so closely related that we try to get people to work on both – we do a lot of training across divisions, with legal and compliance seen as one.”

For the eight departments under Kelly’s watch – corporate, employment, litigation, capital markets, property, retail and commercial, consumer finance and membership issues – it seems the journey of self-improvement is a voyage that never ends. When The Lawyer called Nationwide to clarify the list of training opportunities a few weeks after this interview, the list only got longer. To be frank, it was quite a task keeping up.

Liz Kelly


But the self-improvement malarkey pays off for both sides. Take Nationwide’s head of legal Claire Morris, who was promoted to the role of deputy general counsel last month. Reporting to Kelly, the pair now hold the two most senior legal positions at the building society.

“In-house can struggle when it comes to internal promotions,” Kelly says. “I’m not saying we’re all perfect, but it’s important that we remain ahead of the game on [internal promotions] as well as on work flexibility, which is why I’m encouraging people to move around and go on secondments.”

It is refreshing that Kelly is clear about what she wants and equally transparent about how to get there. Just as she makes clear to staff the path to a promotion, so she knows precisely what she wants from her panel firms.

“Every quarter we sit round the table with our panel firms and say – this is where we are and this is our performance to date,” Kelly explains. “It’s a two-way thing and I expect them to do the same. 

“A lot of it comes down to the chemistry between us all, which is why face-to-face stuff during the panel review is so important. Are these the people I want to put in front of my CEOs? The wider business won’t distinguish between people at an external firm and people internally.”

With that in mind Kelly has pushed this year’s panel review, the first since 2009, back to the autumn in a bid to get things just so.

“This [panel review] will be a similar process to previous reviews, although we may end up looking for new specialisms on the compliance side,” Kelly told The Lawyer earlier this year.

Something tells us she’s going to nail it. This time with a star troop behind her, too.


Liz Kelly

Position: Group general counsel

Reporting to: Group finance director

Total legal capability: Around 50 people

Employees: Around 15,000

Main external law firms: Allen and Overy, Burges Salmon, Eversheds, Nabarro and Olswang

Palwinder Hare

Palwinder Hare, head of legal M&A/corporate, Standard Chartered Bank

My team is involved in the bank’s account acquisitions, disposals, group reorganisations and other corporate matters. We have an enviable record of closing transactions throughout the financial crisis.

To give you a flavour, in early 2011 we acquired GE Money’s Singaporean auto and personal loans provider immediately after acquiring GE’s SME business in Singapore, fuelling our growth there. Later in 2011 we acquired Gryphon Partners to provide corporate advisory capabilities for mining and metals.

Moving into 2012 we acquired Barclays’ credit card business in India and this was followed by an acquisition of Barclays’ secured and unsecured loans in India. My team also led on the establishment of a project finance company to provide long-term senior debt for cross-border projects undertaken by Singapore-based companies in emerging markets. 

A notable acquisition was completed in late 2012 – Credit Agricole’s investment bank subsidiary in Turkey. This allowed the bank to upgrade its Turkey presence to an investment bank with the capability to serve the group’s multinational clients.

Most recently, we announced a joint venture for Angola, the acquisition of Absa custody business in South Africa, a small private bank transaction in India.

The commonly used statement that no two deals are the same is very true of transactions in the banking sector. Deals regularly throw up new issues and challenges. For our projects, we have to multiply this by differing legal systems, languages and cultures. That is what makes it interesting and exciting.