Telecoms is no industry for the faint-hearted lawyer. James Swift catches up with Cable & Wireless Communications head of legal Belinda Bradberry
Surely few industries can offer a lawyer the kinds of challenges that telecoms can? Rapidly evolving technology, fierce competition, frequent regulatory overhauls – the sector throws up a veritable thicket of legal issues and there is little forgiveness when it comes to errors.
Belinda Bradberry, head of legal and regulatory at Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC), is reminded of this every time she takes a business trip.
“Sitting in London with no customer-facing presence, you can lose sight of the bigger picture, but when you go and visit colleagues in our business you’re reminded very quickly what it’s all about,” she says. “You step off the plane and into the arrivals hall in Jamaica and there’s a visual barrage of telecoms advertisements. There’s no mistaking that there’s a war raging. It really brings home the importance of the work that each employee in the business is here to do.”
CWC formed in 2010 when Cable & Wireless demerged into two entities, the other being Cable & Wireless Worldwide. CWC focuses on four regions: Panama, Macau, the Caribbean, and Monaco and Islands.
Bradberry joined the business pre-merger, in December 2006. She had begun her career in private practice in Australia, first at McCullough Robertson, then Mallesons Stephen Jaques, where, despite having dreamt of becoming a litigator since she was a child, she ended up drifting into corporate practice.
“It seemed to me that no one ever really won [in litigation],” says Bradberry, “because even if you win the case, you still lose out on fees to some extent. It’s rare to come out of the process feeling totally satisfied.”
At Mallesons, Bradberry was seconded to telecoms company Telstra Corporation, where she says she thrived, working with people from a multitude of backgrounds. Following a secondment to New York, Bradberry moved to London and found work at Cable & Wireless.
When she joined the company, Bradberry initially worked under general counsel Nick Cooper, who is now an executive director at CWC, and “a bit of a role model” for lawyers there, having become a trusted adviser to the company.
“I like being part of a team that’s about more than just legal work,” she explains. “I like being united behind a common client, as it were. Particularly in this business where I get to have interesting discussions with people from all over the world.”
Most recently, these interesting discussions have centred on a tussle in Jamaica, a key market for the company, where two of CWC’s rivals (Digicell and Claro) look set to merge, potentially exacerbating what CWC already considers to be an unfavourable competitive environment.
“A lot of our work is about managing our relationships with government,” confirms Bradberry.
But having a portfolio as broad as Bradberry’s means that there is always more than one thing on your plate. On top of “untangling the spaghetti” of regulation, which goes hand-in-hand with a demerger on the scale of Cable & Wireless’, and looking at issues connected with launching Apple’s iPhone 4 in the Carribbean, there are the constant changes in technology to contend with.
“Fixed-line and voice revenues are declining, but there’s growth opportunity in data,” Bradberry argues. “The challenge for us is that we need to have flexibility. We don’t want to be a dumb pipe [an infrastructure owner that is missing out on data revenue].”
Given that Bradberry’s portfolio covers 38 jurisdictions, it is only natural that a lot of work is entrusted to local offices.
“From London, we can’t be involved in every legal issue that people are working on across the entire group,” she admits. “I manage this by having regular calls and meetings with the lawyers from different business units. Also, our governance framework requires that matters that meet specified thresholds are sent to London for governance review.”
Like most in-house counsel, Bradberry is being asked to do more for less. And when it comes to using external firms, the legal and regulatory head has exacting standards.
“We don’t use a panel approach,” explains Bradberry. “Instead, we seek to build up relationships with trusted advisers. We’ve tried using panels in the past but the results we got with it didn’t really reflect how the company works.”
“I can see why the panel method would work for banks, which are a bit more rigid in the way they work, but because we’re more dynamic, panels don’t really suit our business model,” she says. “Our external lawyers know that if they don’t deliver a good value, high-quality product on time, they won’t get the fees or repeat business they’d hoped for.”
In an industry unwilling to forgive delay or errors on her part, there is no reason to expect anything less.
Name: Belinda Bradberry
Company: Cable & Wireless Communications Position: Head of legal and regulatory affairs
Turnover: $2.4bn (£1.55bn)
Number of employees:Approximately 8,000
Annual legal spend:£9m
Legal capability:Four in London, 50 groupwide
Main external firms:Charles Russell, Pinsent Masons, Slaughter and May