Maninder Gill: Harvey Nichols

If he isn’t yet the best-dressed lawyer in London, Maninder Gill ought to be. Harvey Nichols’ first legal director talks shop with Joanne Harris

Maninder Gill is a converted man. Six months after joining luxury retailer Harvey Nichols as its first-ever legal director, Gill is singing the praises of shopping.

“I was amazed when I got here that none of my friends from conservative law firms wore Harvey Nichols’ clothes,” says Gill, himself dressed in an example of the best Harvey Nichols’ menswear department has to offer. “They’ve been incredibly surprised about how much fun shopping can be. It’s amazing when lawyers realise there’s a world of shopping outside Chancery Lane.”

But quite apart from the sartorial delights offered by Harvey Nichols’ six UK stores, Gill is enthusiastic about his new job and the challenges it offers him.

Gill joined Harvey Nichols in January of this year in a new role created for him by chief executive Joseph Wan, to whom he reports. As well as being legal director, Gill is company secretary and a member of the board of directors. This means his remit is much broader than that of the average in-house lawyer, involving him deeply in the day-to-day running of the Harvey Nichols empire.

Wan brought Gill in ahead of a period of planned expansion at Harvey Nichols. The retailer already has branches in Riyadh, Hong Kong and Dubai, and new stores are planned in Moscow, Poland, Qatar, Kuwait, Indonesia, Australia, Brazil and Turkey. Gill will play a vital role in helping to draft the licences for each branch as well as working on IP and contractual issues.

“I found a very cohesive board; we’re all playing with one aim, and that’s to drive the business forward,” Gill explains. “Everyone’s been so welcoming that I have been able to produce effective and practical advice on the way we do things.”

He says his prior experience has been enormously helpful to him. Gill spent seven years as legal director of Northern & Shell, Richard Desmond’s publishing company, which produces the Daily Express and OK! magazine among other less family-friendly titles. Before that, he trained and qualified at media-focused firm Peter Carter-Ruck & Partners, specialising in IP. That is particularly useful at Harvey Nichols, which is constantly involved in negotiations with major fashion brands over what is sold where. “Retail and publishing are probably the most intensely competitive markets that I could have ended up in. You have to reinvent yourself on a daily basis,” he says.

Getting into the guts of the retail sector has been the hardest task. Gill has spent much of his first few months at Harvey Nichols touring the stores and learning them inside out. Each location has a different character, but must reflect the Harvey Nichols character and deliver the same “high-end fashion experience” the company’s customers expect.

As a board member, Gill must spend a fair amount of his time in Harvey Nichols – watching staff at work, noting possible improvements and eating in the restaurants owned by the company.

At the moment, Gill is the only in-house lawyer at Harvey Nichols, and does not foresee bringing in an assistant yet. Indeed, he has not needed the help of external counsel, although historically the company has instructed Macfarlanes, Norton Rose and Pinsent Masons.

Gill believes that more and more in-house lawyers will have roles like his in the future, adding that he thinks his position is enhanced by being on the board. “Our training is an invaluable tool, giving us the ability to explain concisely the ramifications of the decisions being made,” he says.

He finds there is plenty of variety in the work, saying: “I never know what’s going to be on my desk. It could deal with complex foreign licensing and trademark laws together or more bread-and-butter issues such as corporate problems. No two days are the same, which makes my job tremendously exciting.”

Maninder Gill
Company secretary and legal director
Harvey Nichols

Organisation Harvey Nichols
Sector Retail
Turnover £200m
Legal spend Confidential
Employees 2,000
Legal capability One
External lawyers Macfarlanes, Norton Rose, Pinsent Masons, Lewis Silkin
Company secretary and legal director Maninder Gill
Education Raffles Junior College, Singapore; University of Bristol; University College London
Work history March 1986-October 1988 – National Service, Singapore Army; October 1993-May 1998: – Peter Carter-Ruck & Partners (trainee solicitor then solicitor from October 1995); May 1998-June 2005 – group secretary and legal director, Northern & Shell; January 2006 – company secretary and legal director, Harvey Nichols