DP World legal counsel Jane Douglas says the company is riding on the crest of a wave.
Distinguished gentlemen in 19th century dress peer down from all four sides of the central glass atrium at DP World’s offices near Victoria Station.
The large paintings and glass cabinets stocked with large wooden model ships and elaborate silver jugs give the office a modern museum feel. The curious mix of old and new serves as a reminder of the historical shift in economic power – remnants from the British Empire now housed within the offices of a flagship Middle East company that, in the last four years, has gone from owning three ports in the United Arab Emirates to having a portfolio of 52 port terminals in 30 countries.
The expansion into a $3.2bn (£2.24bn) port manager has been captained by DP World’s parent company Dubai World, which is owned and funded by the Dubai government.
The influence now exerted by such sovereign wealth funds echoes Britain’s old command of the seas following the industrial revolution, of which the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, or P&O to most people, was the flagship.
DP World bought P&O in 2006 in an acquisition that cemented its position as the fourth-largest port manager in the world and confined Queen Victoria to the history books – her royal seal even hangs in a glass case by the reception.
Jane Douglas, a smart young lawyer from Australia, fits well within this story. Douglas joined the company last year and in her role as legal counsel for Europe and Russia workswithin a team of five in-house lawyers, two secondees and a few lawyers on postings at various ports across the globe.
“It’s an exciting company to join. All the history of P&O but within a modern, Dubai-based company,” says Douglas.
Shortly after her arrival, Douglas was thrown straight into the completion of a deal in Spain and got her first taste of working across a huge jurisdiction with a small team.
“The scope of the region is enormous: languages, culture, law. It’s a very global company,” says Douglas. “We use external counsel a lot but manage a surprising amount in-house.”
Douglas relies on the Dubai World panel for her go-to firms, but new ventures in some far-flung countries around the world mean she has to use smaller firms that know their country.
“Some of the firms we use come through word-of-mouth, some are proactive and introduce themselves to us, others we get from recommendations. They have to have some experience of infrastructure projects for us to be interested.”
Current projects the team is involved in are closer to home, including the £1.5bn London Gateway project, a new container port in Essex that will get underway soon.
Douglas admits she likes to get involved “at every opportunity” and recently visited a terminal in Southampton to pick up on the port jargon that fills the company’s contracts. Modern ports are becoming increasingly automated and knowing the difference between a straddle carrier and reach stacker is essential for the legal team.
Keeping Douglas busy elsewhere is the e900m (£835.7m) Rotterdam World Gateway in the Netherlands, which is due to open in 2013. To keep track of the fast-expanding company, Douglas plans to travel more over the next 12 months to meet the regional heads and those operating DP World’s joint ventures.
“I like to roll my sleeves up and get into whatever I’m doing at the time,” says Melbourne-born Douglas, who remains unfazed by her own quick accession up the ladder – she qualified in 2005 and joined DP World after a short spell at Slaughter and May.
“Each jump has been a massive learning curve but that keeps work exciting. I’m learning an awful lot about law in different countries and it’s a relatively new legal team for a company with such an extensive history.”
With the past kept preserved in glass boxes, the company is keen to look forward and explore uncharted territory across the world.
“We have a good opportunity to shape the future,” adds Douglas.
Name: Jane Douglas
Position: Legal counsel for Europe and Russia
Organisation: DP World
Industry: Ports management
General Counsel: Olivier Schwartz
Reporting to: Flemming Dalgaard, senior vice-president and managing director, Europe and Russia
Company turnover: $3.2bn (£2.24bn)
Number of employees: 30,000
Legal capacity: Five (two secondees)
Main external law firms: Allen & Overy, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton (Dubai World panel), Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and Norton Rose (London Gateway project)
Total legal spend: £6m
Jane Douglas’s CV
2000-04: LLB, Bond University, Australia
2005: Post graduate diploma of legal practice, College of Law, Sydney
2004-06: Trainee and associate, Mallesons Stephen Jaques
2006: Legal counsel, Telstra
2006-08: Associate, Slaughter and May
2008 – present: Legal counsel for Europe and Russia, DP World