On the surface, Colt Telecom is one of the UK’s most successful home-grown companies.
Set up in 1992, the telecommunications group appears to have an exemplary record after establishing a 13-city presence in eight countries.
The company not only has a highly rated listing on the FTSE 100, it is also, courtesy of its major US shareholder Fidelity Investments, listed on Nasdaq.
But for all its undeniable success, Colt Telecom is also recovering from a poor performance in its first quarter of 1999, with a $23.5m (£14.7m) net loss, and it is not expected to make a profit until 2002.
Also, Colt Telecom chairman James Hynes stepped down last month for “personal reasons”, causing its shares to go into free fall.
However, director of legal services and company secretary at Colt Telecom, Mark Jenkins’ own department is going from strength to strength.
Just last month the company installed its first lawyer in its French office, adding to the two-strong legal team in Germany and its one lawyer heading the Dutch operation.
And since December, the company has set up operations in Milan, Vienna, Stuttgart and Geneva.
“There is bound to be more recruitment to our legal team as the group grows and as cities become more established,” says Jenkins.
But with European expansion comes the challenge of working with lawyers of different cultures.
Jenkins says Colt Telecom uses several firms in certain countries, specifically Lovell White Durrant in France and Baker & McKenzie for Germany and Italy.
But in terms of working with local lawyers, Jenkins says: “When you work in a country like Switzerland you have to deal with the legal fraternity in Geneva and Zurich who do not get on.”
Jenkins adds: “You cannot use a Geneva lawyer in Zurich and vice versa. If you do, it is frowned upon.”
On Italy, Jenkins says that the culture is very difficult. “The bureaucracy is never-ending, which means it has never been an easy ride,” he says.
But Jenkins remains confident of the company’s expansion plans, which have been achieved through setting up new offices or through acquisition.
The majority of corporate work, including M&A advice, is handled by Slaughter and May, but Jenkins says the in-house legal team tries to retain as much work as it can.
He says: “We do everything we can when we have the time and the skill.”
For the UK in-house legal team, which is the biggest and most established operation in the group, regulatory, contract negotiations and private company work are among the usual business it handles. For legal advice on telecommunications, Colt uses Field Fisher Waterhouse.
But Jenkins says it has taken the UK a couple of years to catch up on supplying legal capability for the telecommunications industry.
He also adds that other European countries lag even further behind in housing the expertise needed to cope with these specialised clients. These countries will have to catch up in order to cope with a sector which continues to grow.
Jenkins says: “The in-house team is very busy at the moment.” He says he has been involved in two major financing projects with US firm Sullivan & Worcester over the past nine months which raised $1.5bn to aid Colt Telecom’s growth across Europe.
As expansion continues, Jenkins hopes to realise his objective of greater co-operation between each of the legal teams in Europe. He has set up a forum which he hopes will acheive this.
“I’d like to see more across board compliance to the extent that people are using the knowledge that has been gained in the more established cities rather than the younger operations having to reinvent the wheel.”
Head of legal
Colt telecom group
|Organisation||Colt Telecom Group|
|FTSE 100 ranking||39|
|Legal function||Five UK, nine worldwide|
|Head of legal||Mark Jenkins|
|Reporting to||Larry Ingenri, chief financial officer|
|Main location for lawyers||London|
|Main law firms||Slaughter and May, Dibb Lupton Alsop, Field Fisher Waterhouse, Lovell White Durrant, Baker & McKenzie, Sullivan & Worcester|