Howard Wallis: SunGard

With more than 150 acquisitions in the past 20 years and itself having been a takeover target, SunGard’s assistant general counsel Howard Wallis feels it’s time to centralise the business. By Ben Moshinsky

Howard Wallis is the perfect corporate client. As the assistant general counsel for SunGard’s Europe, the Middle East and Africa (Emea) operations, he gets through between three and four M&A deals a year, each worth between $5m (£2.65m) and $30m (£15.89m).

Stephen Fiamma and Jeremy Parr are the lucky Allen & Overy corporate partners to advise on SunGard’s steady stream of acquisitions. During its 20-year history, SunGard has bought more than 150 software and technology companies worldwide, bringing its revenue up to $4bn (£2.12bn).

As a result, the company has ended up more like a federation of businesses than a single unit and the legal team operates like a law firm within the company, serving the individual business divisions.

Wallis bills the business units by the hour and manages his team like any law firm, organising meetings to give his lawyers personal contact with his clients – SunGard’s business managers. Even better for his shortlisted firms, this means he has no budget constraints and takes on the work as and when the need arises.

But, like a law firm, Wallis feels the frustration of trying to hire the lawyers his practice needs. “It is really tough to find the four to six-year PQE lawyer in IT. It’s around that time that the bubble bursts,” says Wallis.

Last year, SunGard itself was the subject of an M&A deal after a consortium of private equity houses bought the company for $11.5bn (£6.09bn).

With new ownership comes a change in culture. Wallis says: “We’re no longer subject to the analysts at Wall Street, and we can think long term rather than quarterly.”

Wallis and his legal team will be at the heart of a slow and steady centralisation of SunGard, in an effort to unify the disparate business units and boost the company’s profit.

SunGard’s customers are demanding this change and the company’s new owners are willing to listen.

In August Wallis attended a company meeting in the US with all the separate product managers. The assembled delegates looked at how the takeover will affect the running of the company, with Wallis focusing on how that would affect the legal function.

“We’ve introduced a more collaborative way of working in response to customers saying that dealing with SunGard is like dealing with 20 companies,” says Wallis.

The long-term outlook has given Wallis time to think up innovative ways for his lawyers to support the business plan for unification.

In-house lawyers now attend sales meetings. They will also be key in a company-wide document-management project to bring together the company’s data for all the different SunGard products.

This is no mean feat when you consider SunGard has over 150 different customer databases, 70 products and three core divisions.

Happy customers lead to happy bank statements for SunGard’s happy owners, which include private equity powerhouses Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and Blackstone.

Wallis says: “It’s about value creation. Any guys that invest in an LBO [leveraged buyout] that big want to exit the other end having made a profit. We need to look at ways to help that.”

SunGard’s growing Asia business will fuel much of the profit drive, meaning more work for Wallis.

In the six years that Wallis has been Emea general counsel, SunGard’s Emea revenue has quintupled in value from $200m (£105.94m) to $1bn (£529.68m), around 25 per cent of the company’s worldwide total.

Similarly, around 5 per cent of SunGard’s revenue, or $200m, currently comes from Asia. Wallis expects this area to grow as fast as Europe has done in the past and this summer flew into Singapore to oversee the company’s acquisition of software company System Access for $75m (£39.73m).

To handle the growing demand for legal services in Asia, Wallis is looking for a senior lawyer to lead the team in Singapore and a more junior lawyer in Shanghai.

“The job is a unique opportunity, given that the focus of the company is to build in Asia,” he says.

And the legal team will need a few extra pairs of hands. Wallis has his work cut out adapting to the changes in SunGard’s business structure as well as its culture, not to mention supporting the company’s growth in Asia. Wallis sees the solution in being flexible over the type of work his in-house team handles.

“We have to keep focused on the company’s priorities and projects, and look at different ways of allocating legal resources,” he says.

Howard Wallis
Emea assistant general counsel

Company SunGard
Sector Technology/software
Turnover $4bn (£2.12bn)
Employees 16,000
Emea assistant general counsel Howard Wallis
Reporting to Global general counsel Victoria Silbey
Legal capability 10
Legal spend £1m to £2m
Main law firms Allen & Overy, Blank Rome, Kemp Little, Morgan Lewis & Bockius
Howard Wallis’s CV Education: 1986-1989 – Law, University of Nottingham; 1989-1990 – Nottingham Law School
Work history: 1991-1993 – Lovells; 1993-1995 – Brachers; 1995-2000 – Warner Cranston; 2000-present – SunGard